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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect - A Review of Gemba Walks

I just finished reading Gemba Walks, Jim Womack’s newest book from LEI. In Gemba Walks, Jim Womack a pioneer in bringing Lean to the world, shares a decade of learning that will have a deep resonance for both the Lean community and for anyone seriously engaged in improving any value-creating activity.

The life of lean is experiments. All authority for any sensei flows from experiments on the Gemba [the place where work takes place], not from dogmatic interpretations of sacred texts or the few degrees of separation from the founders of the movement. In short, lean is not a religion but a daily practice of conducting experiments and accumulating knowledge.

Over the past decade, he has shared his thoughts and discoveries from these visits with the Lean community through a monthly letter. In Gemba Walks, Womack has selected and re-organized his key letters, as well as written new essays providing additional context.

Gemba Walks shares his insights on topics ranging from the application of specific tools, to the role of management in sustaining lean, as well as the long-term prospects for this fundamental new way of creating value.

The most productive way to walk is to follow a single product family or product design or customer-facing process from start to finish. As you do this you look at each step with the eye of the customer and from the perspective of creating values and asking how this can be done with less. This process Jim summarizes by the phrase “Go see, ask why, show respect.”

In one of his newly written sections Jim reflects on a decade of walking by sharing lessons he has learned from all these Gemba Walks.

Lesson 1: The critical importance of the simple act of walking. When you get bogged down, distracted, or even discouraged rediscover the power of going to see.

Lesson 2: Never walk alone. What is the benefit if only you see the current state and think of a better way to create a future sate? Always walk the value stream with the people who touch it. It will be their efforts who are needed to improve it.

Lesson 3: Expand your focus. Many look primarily at the steps in the value stream and ask how to remove the waste. You must ask about the support processes to get the right people to the right place in the value stream at the right time with the right knowledge, materials, and equipment.

Lesson 4: Reflect first on the purpose of the process. Focus on what problem the customer is trying to solve and ask whether the existing process, now matter how well, run, can effectively address their problem. Pay special attention to the way people are engaged in the operation and its improvement.

Lesson 5: Make work fulfilling. There is nothing worse than seeing good people trapped in an unfulfilling process that they lack the power to improve.

Lesson 6: Stability before full panoply of lean techniques. The process must be capable (able to produce good results every time) and available (able to operate when it is needed).

As John Shook says in the introduction Jim has a remarkable ability to frame issues in new ways, asking why things are as they are, causing us to think differently. Something he referred to as “intense noticing”. Jim inspired all of us by simply seeing and communication lean best practices. He encouraged others to try new things or to try old things in different ways. Offering others the courage to try truly embodies showing respect for people.

I recommend Gemba Walks to anyone serious about making improvements where humans create value. Reading this book will reveal to readers a range of lean principles, as well as the basis for the critical lean practice of: go see, ask why, and show respect.

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