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What is Job Observation: Genchi Genbutsu and Gemba Walks

This post is part of a series blog on Standardization. See part I on visual work instructions and part III on competence management.

To start positioning ourselves, and as we said in our 1st blog series about standardization, in phase C (Check) of the Deming PDCA cycle we had to do “The Job Observation”:

What is Job Observation

Ensuring the robustness of standardization is the main challenge. If you remember in the previous post we defined the best way to digitally standardize any activity. This is only the beginning, or rather it is the basis of our continuous improvement methodology since the ultimate goal of standardization is to make its accomplishment rigorous (whatever the stakeholder is), and at the same time be the basis of continuous improvement for any activity.

Job Observation is a tool that helps us achieve several goals. In this post, we will look at the different types of Job Observation methodologies, which will help us to:

  • Keep the standards “alive”
  • Ensure standards are followed and respected
  • Identify problems of any kind that affect the quality, productivity, ergonomics, safety, etc., of people or goods
  • Be able to identify opportunities for improvement of the standards
  • Identify training opportunities
  • Identify opportunities for “Kaizen” type improvement studies

How to do job observations effectively?

There are many ways to do job observations, but in order to make it effective, here are the main tools that we would like to propose:

  • “Genchi Genbutsu”
  • Gemba Walks
  • The 3 types of observation by managers:
    • Planned Observation
    • Observation for an unexpected event
    • Reflective Observation

What is “Genchi Genbutsu”

Genchi Genbutsu (“Go see yourself”) are Japanese words that are part of the TPS (Toyota Production System). This tool is especially recommended for managers, and it is based on the following concept: for any inefficiency, go to the source and see by yourself and with your own eyes, and if possible be also accompanied by your team. It is a basic principle for dealing with problems: go and observe the place or process where the problem has been detected. If this is clear to us, half of the problem is already solved. Managers must show the importance of working with “Facts and Data” and not with opinions or perceptions (whether they are interested or not) from third parties.

What are “Gemba Walks”

Gemba Walks, or maybe more known as plant tours, follow the same basic concept of Genchi Genbutsu, which has the same origin in the TPS. Gemba Walks are also very oriented to managers within companies with a strong Lean orientation. Gemba or “Place of great value”, is the place where things happen, and where we can perceive reality with the 5 senses and understand the current situation in the environment where they happen.

Gemba Walks should be done routinely, and the leaders of any organization should integrate them into their daily tasks. They get to know the day-to-day life of the place where the added value is generated and become familiar with the issues. The purpose of this practice is not to solve problems, make judgments, or give orders to change the results but to generate the spirit of detection and continuous improvement that will ultimately lead to solving the problems. This is critical. 

We must also congratulate the teams when the results are positive. These “walks” will allow us to strengthen our relationship with our collaborators and to detect non-value-added tasks, trends to correct, patterns and problems that have not been analyzed, but also good practices and points of interest among other things.

Principles of job observation

1. Observing is working:

During the time spent observing, we are focused on it and therefore it is a time that we devote to observation, no other activity should distract us from observation, so forget about cell phones and WhatsApp. This activity, which is fundamental for all managers, should be a daily activity and should last at least 30 minutes a day.

2. Attitudes and behaviors of the managers during the observation:

  • Be unavailable for external calls
  • Prepare the documents
  • Remember the standards
  • Go to the workstation and inform the operator
  • Observe the operation from a distance several times
  • Closely observe the position
  • Dialogue with the operator
  • Make a balance and action plan

Job Observation, Gemba Walks and Genchi Genbutsu

3. Observe with the 5 senses:

  • Taste (mainly for the food industry)
  • Hearing: noises, rustling…
  • Touch: vibrations, temperature…
  • Vision: leaks, dirt…
  • Smell: Smells of burning, chemical products…

4. Observation Filters:

We can make our observations in a general way in a job or we may want to establish a specific focus. When we focus, we are able to see many more opportunities for improvement. Here are some examples of approaches:

  • Quality
  • Safety
  • Productivity
  • Compliance with standards
  • Production of defects
  • Dirt, leaks
  • Displacements
  • Maintenance
  • Etc…

5. The 4 M’s:

The methodology we adopt must integrate the 4 M’s from the 5M Model (the M of Medium or Environment will be integrated into the rest of the M’s):

  • Manpower (people):
    • Compliance with standards
    • Training
    • Etc…
  • Method:
    • Work standard, or control
    • Operating times
    • Displacements
    • Useless gestures
    • Etc…
  • Material:
    • Defects
    • Stocks
    • Procurement
    • Identification
    • Etc…
  • Means (machine, tooling):
    • Driving standards
    • Idem maintenance
    • Reliability
    • Media capacity
    • Etc…

6. Geographic perimeters:

  • The environment of the workstations or production lines:
    • Overview to appreciate weaknesses in the environment of the workstations, identification of aisles, forklift crossings, identification of fluids, emergency or evacuation exits, lighting, etc…
  • General view of a machine or process:
    • Overview of the machine or production line, how it is driven, maintained, repaired, how non-conformities are identified, etc…
    • Find the most relevant weak points of our machine that affect the results.
  • Particular focus on what is most relevant:
    • Where a defect occurs and why
    • Detail of the standards that affect our problem
    • The training of an operator
    • Etc…

The 3 types of observation:

1. Planned observation:

This is the observation that is planned and part of a routine.

  • All Managers must perform their observations frequently. It is a fundamental routine in the daily management of any organization. Remember that observing is also working.
  • Observation by a Team Leader must be on a daily basis. The rest of the manager levels, will determine their frecuency, but it should be at least once a week and they should perfom it jointly with their lower levels.

2. Circumstantial observation:

This is the observation which comes as the consequence of a specific event, which can be:

    • An accident
    • The break of a medium or tool
    • A quality defect identification
    • Etc…

3. Reflex observation:

It is the “Ideal” situation: all the personnel while in the Gemba, is observing in a natural way and is able to visualize any anomalous state. The 4 M’s are integrated in their 5 senses and while walking through any point of the factory, they are able to visualize anomalies or aspects to improve.

Observing is a management tool, and thus, it must be routinely trained.

How to digitally manage the Observation?

It has been proven that carrying out an observation routine is cumbersome. It generates a multitude of papers, Excel sheets, checklists, etc… that must then be transferred to the computer… (which becomes “a pain”). The management must afterward extract the conclusions of the observations, a multitude of actions, and people in charge, with very difficult management and control of all of them. In our opinion, the solution lies in a set of applications that digitally enable all of the above effortlessly and are capable of being tracked at the required level.

Start digitizing your Shop Floor

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