"Nothing has the power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life." — Marcus Aurelius
All too often, attempts are made to solve problems without knowing anything about or are not being familiar with a particular area or process -- resulting in a misdiagnosis or failed solution. Answers come from the floor, from the 'gemba,' where the condition occurs. You need to go to the real place and experience these conditions for yourself before being able to take the next steps.
No matter what your position is or what you are working on you can not underestimate the importance of going to the Gemba. Gemba is the Japanese word for “actual place.” You can’t solve problems at your desk. Going to the Gemba is a great way to get the entire team involved in identifying and solving problems. It is grounded in fact finding using actual conditions from the actual workers who perform the work. This activity creates energy within the team solving the problem leading to experimentation, ideas, and discussion on improvements.
Lean leaders should go to the shop floor and get their hands dirty by working on process improvement. People expect their leaders to be innovative. Allow others to see your creativity in action on the front lines. Leaders need to do more and observe less. Action is observation in full motion.
There is no better way to experience the flow of value (or lack thereof) than taking the same journey that an order, new product, patient or other takes through your processes. Start where the order, product or person enters your value stream and "go see" all the places they go from start to finish. Look for all forms of the 7 wastes and when you see them, think about "why" they exist. Do this often in order to gain a true understanding of your processes. What happens on Monday is not necessarily what happens on Friday.
In data collection, impartial observations of how the process is currently running are critical in identifying waste with respect to time, materials, etc. You can observe a lot by simply watching, although in some environments it may be difficult to observe the work itself. This is because there are so many work products that are virtual, for example, emails, phone, computer inputs and reports. In these cases, process observation with trained observers can be powerful.
Many managers rely on gut instinct to make important decisions, which often leads to poor results. On the contrary, when managers insist on incorporating facts and evidence, gathered from direct observation at the source they make better choices and their companies benefit. Lean companies however strive to empower their employees to make decisions at all levels through access to data, knowledge of evaluation methods, and defined standard processes.
Supervisors and managers must continually walk through the factory to see that standards are being followed and to practice seeing waste. Operators need to continually examine their own operations to stay alert for new problems and new ideas for solving them that may come to mind as they do their jobs.
There is no substitute for observation when it comes to problem solving.