Go and See!
The Power of Muda Walks
By Dennis Sowards
"Innovation" is today's buzzword in business and industry. There are all kinds of programs, workshops, and publications claiming to have the best ways to increase innovation within companies. While I cannot attest to their success, here are some thoughts on growing innovation.
With the exception of a few individuals who are naturally creative, the rest of us can enhance our ability to see innovative opportunities by following a basic Lean principle of "Go and See." Henry Ford is recognized as being very innovative, but most of his inspiration did not happen in the boardroom. He would go to the assembly line and watch how the work was performed. Seeing what worked, and more so, what was slow, awkward, or took too much effort and resources, gave him ideas for what to change. Taiichi Ohno spent most of his time watching the work and observing the way it was performed. He is considered the father of the Toyota Production System. He demanded that plant managers and supervisors invest their time watching the work and reporting back to him what improvements they saw. He would take managers to the work floor and coach them on what to see.
This is not the Tom Peters' idea of Management by Walking Around or, as many managers do: management by walking by. Just as there is a big difference in taking a picture of an animal in its natural habitat and observing it for a long period, managers who do walk by observations see little of how the real work is done and what barriers exist.
I suggest that our world would be much improved if more companies practiced Go and See. If GM would send someone to ride in my Chevy truck, I would show him many ways to improve the design. I feel if engineers had to do repairs on cars themselves, they would quickly realize why their engine design is not very functional. If airline executives had to board and ride their flights like the rest of us do, I would guess there would be improvements in the boarding processes and in the legroom of the seats. Nothing changes one's perspective more than a personal experience.
Just going and watching is good, but knowing what one is looking for can enhance it. Some basic questions to ask while watching are:
- What should be happening? Hint: we want value to flow.
- What is keeping the work (value) from flowing?
- What treasure hunting do I see? Workers do lots of treasure hunting on construction jobsites.
- What wastes do I see? Hint: there are eight basic types of Construction waste to look for:
- Misunderstanding requirements
- Fabrication defects
- Info/data/material incomplete, wrong
- Incorrect installation
- Transportation - Material or Information Handling
- Jobsite material movement
- Uncoordinated trucking deliveries
- Lack of identification/resorting
- Poor site layout can result in long transportation distance
- Hunting and searching for tools, equipment, office supplies, information on a computer, drawings - anything!
- Not completing work while in one area
- Going to pick up forgotten material
- Poor jobsite organization
- For RFIs, tools, instructions, materials, a supplier - anything!
- For other work to be completed
- Not pre-planning what parts are needed
- Fabrication on job too early
- Over-purchasing "just in case"
- Not returning excess material to vendors
- Over Production
- Working out of sequence to try to get ahead
- Creating extra anything (i.e., paper copies) that ends up in the trash!
- Anything at the jobsite that ends up in the dumpster (estimated at typically 9% by weight)
- Over Processing
- Doing anything the owner/customer would not recognize as value
- Selling Chevy, installing Cadillac
- Underutilized Human Resources
- Not utilizing the brains and talents of the entire organization
- Not recognizing the "team decision" will be the best decision!
- Are there standard ways to perform the work? If there are no standards, how will we know if we have improved?
- Is equipment being properly maintained? If not, guess what will happen, and usually will at the least desirable time?
- How is the equipment being utilized? Do we have enough or not enough welders, scissor lifts, drills, etc. to keep the crews performing value added work?
- Ask the frontline workers; "How can we make it easier for you to do your job?" This is not spying on the workers. They need to know they will be observed. Frontline workers see more barriers and problems than managers ever see. They may not know the best way to remove the constraint, but they do experience problems first-hand.
Where constraints can be removed or reduced, managers should act quickly. If workers see that management cares enough about their problems to take quick action, they will be more committed to share other problems or improvement ideas. In one shop, the workers showed a new manager that the door opened the wrong way to be safe and effective. That manager had the door changed before the next day's shift. This simple act made a profound impact on how the workers viewed and interacted with that manager. This door issue had been an irritant for years and previous managers had dismissed it as not important to productivity. The new manager continued to work successfully with those shop employees to find other ways to improve productivity.
Where constraints are observed but can't easily be changed, managers should gather as much information as possible to fully understand the whole problem, then consult with workers and others on how best to remove it. If an idea, suggested by a worker, cannot be implemented, the manager should take the time to explain why. Managers will build trust and rapport with employees by being honest about what can and cannot be done and by helping train the workers on the importance of why things must be done a certain way.
By going to the work areas and watching for bottlenecks and opportunities, managers are better able to identify new innovative ways to perform the work. They may also see how workers themselves have made innovations. Frank Gilbreth, a noted productivity improvement engineer and famous for the true story depicted in the book Cheaper by the Dozen, would always talk to whoever was considered the laziest worker. His reasoning was that the lazy worker would find the simplest way to get the job done and often that would be a more innovative way. Labeling someone as lazy is not smart management today, but seeing how workers actually do their work will yield many useful ideas. There are lots of innovative ideas already being applied by individuals. These ideas are not being shared or replicated within the company.
Every year in September I sponsor a Muda Walk for a month. It is in honor of Masaaki Imai, noted Lean leader and author of the best selling books Kaizen and Gemba Kaizen. (His birthday is in September.) A Muda Walk is Mr. Imai's version of Go and See. "Muda" means waste in Japanese and Mr. Imai is famous for doing Muda walks in companies and spotting many opportunities for improvement not seen previously by plant management. During the Muda Walk for a Month, I email out to participants ideas or themes to go and observe. I ask that they invest time weekly and, if possible, daily to watch the work being done. Participation is free, but I do request that the participants provide me with a copy of the improvement log they generate while doing a Muda walk.
I have been doing the Muda Walks for a Month for five years and each year it is impressive and interesting to see the ideas captured by participants. Often one idea causes observers to think of other applications for the same improvement. Creative thinking is contagious, one idea can give birth to a family of ideas.