Lean Consulting

Lean Consulting: How to Improve Processes Through a Gemba Walk

Lean Consulting“I need help with this – let’s call in a consultant!” I’m sure you’ve said or heard that in your business before. When faced with a particularly complicated problem, businesses take advantage of consultants, and the smart ones involve lean consultants. Why? Three reasons:

  1. “Lean consultants have skills that have to be transferred to our team.”
  2. “We need extra ‘horsepower’ to get the job done.”
  3. “We can’t ‘see the forest from the trees,’ and need a fresh set of eyes.”

Let’s elaborate on the third point, as it is particularly intriguing to me:

Lean consulting as a fresh set of eyes

The Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) defines a lean organization as: "[understanding] customer value and [focusing] its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.”

What’s the problem with waste? It’s that we can’t see waste; we think that’s just the way things are. We become accustomed to ineffective processes and inventory around us, making us feel “safe.” We are addicted to many forms of waste, so we don’t actually see it as waste. This is when lean consulting comes in very handy.

Step One: River of Waste Exercise

It will all start with a team session discussing waste. Give a stack of sticky notes to everyone and let people identify waste in their own process. Talk to people, listen to their experiences. After all, they know the process best, they do it every single day.

Understand how the eight forms of wastes are represented in the observed process or facility:

  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Knowledge – not engaging employees
  • Waiting
  • Overproduction
  • Over processing
  • Defects

Step 2: Go and See the Process – Gemba Walk

“Almost nothing needs to be said if you have eyes.” - Tarjei Vesaa, Norwegian PoetLean Consulting

Conducting Gemba walks and embracing “go see” management are techniques that lean enterprises leverage. They recognize that in order to truly understand current state problems, they must go see for themselves. Go to the place where the work is being done (Gemba) and observe. Record everything with the help of a Gemba walk or “waste walk’ checklist and be mindful of all the eight waste categories. To a lean consulting professional, they will be obvious and clearly defined. While to you, they may be hiding and considered just part of the process.

A lean consultant will also engage with the people doing the work in order to truly understand the problem and process from their point of view. They will ask direct questions like:

  • Is there waste in this process?
  • Is the work stable? Where do we see the most variation?
  • Are there standards in place and are we following them? Do the standards work?
  • What are the problems that you see with the current state?
  • If you can change one thing about this process, what would it be?

Step Three: Listen to the Results with Humility and Implement Improvements

At the end of your lean consulting experience, you will get a visual representation of all the findings, improvement areas, quick fixes (kaizen projects) and longer term recommendations. The key at this point is to prioritize these findings, accept them with humility and get started with improvements right away - including your team members on as many steps as possible. Lean culture comes from within, and problem solving will happen every day. And if your lean consulting effort taught you something, you will no longer think of waste as a normal part of your processes. Gemba walks, daily waste identification, and continuous improvement will now be part of your processes going forward.

Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

blog author

LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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