How to Succeed at a Gemba Walk Using the 3Gen Principle

How to Succeed at Gemba Walk using the 3Gen Principle

Regardless of your industry, you may have observed (or actively participated in) the 3Gen principle, commonly known as a Gemba Walk. Do you and your team know how to truly prepare yourself for and succeed with Gemba Walks?

First, a little background.

3Gen refers to the terms Genchi, Genbutsu, and Genjitsu in Japanese. Translated to English, Genchi means “go see”, Genbutsu means “the actual location” and Genjitsu means “actual objects”. Gen is actually pronounced Gem. The phrase “Gemba Walk” is often used as a shortened form of communicating this principle to the world.

In plain language, 3Gen (or Gemba Walk) means: Go to the place where the action or the problem actually occurred. Verify the actual objects of evidence and see it (or them) for yourself.

The concept is applied best on an existing production line, where a time based or standardized system can be reviewed. This doesn’t have to be a complex exercise.

Are you ready for a Gemba Walk?

The Gemba Walks using the 3Gen PrincipleIf you perform a Gemba Walk in a facility that does not have a time based, standardized system, the walk is simply going to reveal waste and lots of it. It will be overwhelming. A large list will be generated that will require more resources than the company can handle. Nothing will get accomplished. The Gemba Walk will be seen as additional work added to already overflowing plates. As a survival tactic, workers will do everything they can to hide abnormalities from management to keep their own work to a manageable level. If this is the approach of your company’s Gemba Walk, it will fail and the Gemba Walk itself is at risk of being blamed for it.

In order for a Gemba Walk to be most fruitful, it needs to be performed on an operation where the work has already been divided into two categories: Work that is standard or “normal”, and work that is non-standard or “abnormal”. During the walk, the easier and faster abnormal work can be identified, the easier and faster it is for employees and management to correct it.

A normal working state must be established and adhered to. The success or failure of that normal state must be visually evident. It needs to be immediate and obvious. This can be accomplished quickly in three ways; with flow, standard work and visual quality management systems.

Teachable rules need to be put in place, posted, taught and very well communicated. The simpler the rules, the easier they will be to teach and adhere to.

The creation of these normal conditions allows for abnormal conditions to be readily observed during a Gemba Walk. The Gemba Walk then becomes a daily reinforcement of standard work for the facility.

Ask Why 5 Times.

Managers performing the Gemba Walk should be asking the 5 Why’s for every abnormal condition they observe. (If you have not heard of this technique, it involves asking an initial question relevant to a process breakdown and then asking why after each subsequent response, five times or more until a root cause is established.) Personnel for every observable condition should already be assigned and called to action based on the observation.

The assigned team member(s) should be seeking to apply the continuous improvement cycle (Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act, Motorola’s Define-Measure-Analyze-Investigate-Control, or UTC’s Define-Investigate-Verify-Ensure) to be used to address any abnormal conditions.

Please, please don’t drown your teams in a sea of paperwork. If they can show you that they have quickly and effectively fixed the problem without having to put together a PowerPoint presentation to show it to you, it is much better. Ask yourself, are you looking for flashy presentations or results? What you ask for is what you will get.

The check phase of the continuous improvement cycle should be observed on your next Gemba Walk. Action will be taken for the simple fact that the workforce knows you are watching and will consistently come back to view what’s been accomplished.  Once you’re able to confirm that the problem is no longer present, you can then ask what measures have been added to the process.  This Act-Control-Ensure process step prevents the problem from recurring. It brings closure to the first continuous improvement cycle loop and it sets the stage to encourage ongoing improvements.

Gemba Walk example #1

I will now share two examples of successful Gemba walks. There are no shortcuts or magic pills. This is not a cookie cutter approach. Let these examples inspire you to come up with your own method for your own production facility. Keep in mind how they might apply (even if modified) to your current production line.

The first example is a Gemba walk performed by a production supervisor. In this example, a standard meeting of no longer than 15 minutes occurs on three shifts every day. In this meeting, a cross-functional support team would gather between 3rd and 1st shifts, again between 1st and 2nd shifts and again between 2nd and 3rd shifts. These 45 minutes a day can help you manage the system over three shifts.

The meeting always happens the same standardized way. It begins with the maintenance team calling out each of the machines in the production area one by one in sequence and simply communicating the words “up” or “down”. If all is up and running well with no concerns, no further discussion with the maintenance crew is required and they can immediately leave. If any equipment is down, maintenance will explain the problem and provide an estimate of when the equipment will be up and running again. If more equipment is down than they have manpower to support, the maintenance team will ask for the machines to be prioritized by the supervisor.

The material planner is next on the agenda. She communicates the daily production needs.  These are by part number and are recorded by the supervisor. They will become the daily targeted quantities production needs to hit. If the targets were not achieved on the previous day because of equipment failure or other production issues, this would be immediately communicated by the supervisor. A discussion would be held about the feasibility of ongoing production commitments.

The day’s actions are then set based on the outcomes of this meeting.  If all machines are up and running, material requirements are written on the requirements boards for each machine by the shop supervisor during his or her morning walk through of the production floor.  Absentee issues are observed during the walk through and adjustments are made to ensure that critical needs are met first. Anticipated or unmet needs are immediately communicated back to the materials team for adjustment.

Based on the success or failure of these daily meetings, it becomes evident where improvement activity needs to be applied and kaizen, TPM and/or transformational events are prioritized and applied as needed to improve daily performance.

In this first example, the Gemba Walk is performed daily, after the powerful 15-minute meeting to set the day’s expectations. The next day’s meeting communicates the effectiveness of the goals set. Continuous improvement activity is used to close any gaps and increase capacity to meet customer production needs.

Gemba Walk example #2

The second example of a Gemba walk is performed by a director of manufacturing. The products produced are gears, shafts, bearings and valves. There is a high level of quality fallout in the gear, shaft and valve areas where product sits for days and even weeks waiting to be reviewed by the engineering and quality teams.

A simple system is put into place. Racks are placed in each of the main production areas.  When fallout occurs, the lot containing the fallout is moved to its designated rack.  Each rack has a single owner, a manufacturing engineer who reports to the director.

A simple rule is put in place. The engineer has 48 hours to get a single lot back into the production line (or scrapped if applicable). The director walks the facility each morning, stopping at each rack, looking at every traveler for lots that have been sitting on the rack for more than 48 hours. If there is a single job waiting longer than 48 hours, the engineer is immediately called by mobile phone directly to the floor to review the job and make a commitment to the director for when it will be addressed. The director makes a note of that date. The director will continue to call that engineer to the rack for any new expirations on a daily basis, but will also be sure to follow up on the particular committed fix on the committed due date.

At first, this will really annoy the engineers. They will not like being called out to their rack and having to explain on the fly why their product is non-conforming. With the director’s consistent action, they will discover that normalcy and peace will only come when parts are not left on the rack longer than 48 hours. Their first action may be to simply move the parts to their desks, thereby hiding the problem. If this occurs, the director should start stopping by their desks and asking the 5 Why’s at their desks. No blame or judgement is necessary.

Why stick with it?

Persistent action (constancy of purpose) will reinforce the need to change. Engineers and the production team will have to think differently. Their daily focus on the non-conforming material will reveal patterns in the non-conformances and repeating issues. They will start getting more engaged with the daily operation and asking their own questions of the mechanics running the machines. They will start coming up with ideas and proposing solutions. They will start trying things out. The director will also change. He or she will notice that some of the issues are common among product lines. He or she will initiate process control events and kaizen events to address the common issues and more complex problems.

After a few months, the number of non-conformances will drop significantly. Throughput and inventory turns will also improve because product will no longer be sitting.

New engineered methods shall be put in place to keep the level of quality in place and the engineers will for perhaps the first time, truly understood what time-based manufacturing and first-time quality are all about and how important their role is in making it happen.

What will your Gemba Walk look like? Keep it simple. Start today!

Nicole Snurkowski is a lead consultant and lean sensei with Daniel Penn Associates with more than 25 years’ experience in lean system management in aerospace development, manufacturing, operations and supply chain. Trained by the Shingijitsu Consulting firm in the Toyota Production System and in Porsche’s Line Back Logistics, she has led many transformations at UTC in three of their divisions; Pratt and Whitney, Sikorsky and United Technologies Aerospace Systems. She holds ACE practitioner certification and has taken clients to ACE Gold and Silver certification levels. As the Director of Manufacturing for an aerospace manufacturer, Nicole led continuous improvement efforts in the areas of 3P, Value Stream Mapping, Kaizen events and Standard Work, achieving consistent year after year improvements of 23%.

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