HERE’s one cardinal rule in continuous improvement: Better to see it with your own eyes than decide based on what you hear. If you do ten that’s reliance on second-hand information. You probably know what I’m talking about here. Lean leaders, kaizen masters and quality managers solve issues by going to the place where it matters the most.
By going to the gemba (actual workplace) as the Japanese habitually do, you can learn many things you can’t discover and understand in oral or formal, even handsome reports, no matter how kilometric they appear to be. The lesson is clear—you only have to see it, to believe it.
This time-tested principle is proven once again when 32 of my clients, my Japanese partner – Kenji Kitamura, former Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Philippines, and yours truly visited the factories of Fujitsu Ten and Toyota Boshoku at Laguna Technopark last week.
Walking inside these two kaizen powerhouses, we were greeted by the warm hospitality of their respective management teams that made our learning transformation profound and long-lasting. For a little over one and half-hour for each factory, we were treated to a wide array of eye-popping excellent examples of visual control and 5S good housekeeping.
Their real-life experience and just-do-it approach will make you an instant believer in visualization in the workplace. It’s an old maxim you hear from your spouse berating you when you’re trying to look for something inside the house: “Use your eyes, not your mouth.” That’s why visualization or visual management is at the center of lean and kaizen leadership, in and out of the house.
But of course, our eyes become valuable only if everything (including wastes, defects, inventory, over production, etc.) is not hidden from plain view. You’ve to show these for everyone to see so that they can calculate its monetary value, how it affects the bottom line, and the workers’ job security, among other issues.
That’s not all. Cost must not be limited to surfacing and calculating its impact. The whole idea is to reduce, if not eliminate cost and other non-value added things, including unnecessary policies, systems, and procedures. However, that relies on one condition—remove workers’ fear as W. Edwards Deming (1990-1993) had admonished us. If not, people will hide their wastes from public view for fear that they will blamed for it.
Somehow, we got through the factory tours feeling happy, contented, and learned. But then, the sooner that you got out of Laguna Technopark, you’ll be greeted by the grim reality of life outside of those two factories—vehicular traffic at rush hour going back to Manila. Your only consolation is that your heart and mind would immediately tell you to grin and bear it, which means you’ve to take a brief rest with your eyes closed so that you can’t have that sad face inside an air-conditioned bus full of people wanting to go back home.
The reality of life inside the metropolis is difficult to understand. The worst part is having government leaders who don’t care much as they’re blinded by plain sight obstructions on the road. Imagine if we can only duplicate the successes of Toyota Boshoku and Fujitsu Ten so that everyone can do a seiri (removing unnecessary things from necessary) to make our road network as efficiently as possible like the blood vessels of an athletic, young man.
Although, frankly, I’m not even sure if our current and would-be government leaders would care enough to do it under a system called “political will.”
By now, you may have noticed a common thread in many of my articles—it’s all about solving problems without spending money and using management buzzwords as platforms while I attempt to relive my recent experience with people and organizations.
The trick is to ask questions and think like a child.
You know what it means. Kids are not afraid to explore things. They like to ask questions. They say what they want to say without bias. They don’t pretend they’re enjoying reading Aesop’s fables when they’d rather play games. Fortunately, that’s the best way of learning new things.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.