There is no substitute for actually going to the gemba and walking around. For those who don’t find themselves immersed in Lean lingo day-in and day-out, I will explain. The gemba (sometimes spelled genba) is the place of work. Particularly, the gemba is the place where work processes are actually performed. Going to these work sites and actually engaging with workers on the front line is a requirement for Lean managers. It’s not a hint, or a recommendation; it’s a requirement. Regular gemba walks allow you to communicate, collaborate, and understand what is really going on in your company. Unfortunately, the busy life of an entrepreneur, business owner, or high-level manager can take you a lot of different places, and you can’t be two places at once. But, that is not an excuse to pause the communication. Keeping up to date with new technology lets you stay connected to the gemba from anywhere in the world.
Let’s make one thing clear. We’re not saying it’s okay to use this technology instead of actually going to the place of work. Using email, Skype, video, and photos to stay in touch should supplement gemba walks to keep the conversation going when you can’t be physically present. Here are few ideas of how you can stay in touch digitally:
Online Kaizen Newspaper
It doesn’t take much to keep in touch with the problems being addressed at the workplace. The Kaizen newspaper technique is a simple way that workers can document problems and potential solutions. Unless employees do most of their work on a computer, a Kaizen newspaper works best as a physical document at the place of work. This way, work does not have to be interrupted to document problems. However, having access to this document while away from the workplace can be a huge asset. Mirroring the Kaizen newspaper on a sharable online spreadsheet, like those offered on Google Docs, is one way to do this. A simpler, but less dynamic option is to have photos or scans of the document sent via email at the end of the day.
Morning Meetings on Web Cam
Morning meetings are a great way to keep the whole team up to date on current objectives and challenges. When done well, these can even be morale booting exercises. If your schedule permits, you should try to participate even when you are out of town. Online services like Skype, Apple’s FaceTime, and a huge variety of other options make this a lot easier than it once was. Keep the meetings quick and on topic. It’s also best to avoid yelling “JETSON!” from an oversized monitor.
Until the Oculus-Rift ushers in a new age of virtual reality, video is still the best way to get a sense of another location from afar. You might initially think that putting up cameras so you can monitor daily work is a good idea. Wrong! That’s a horrible idea. Not only will this destroy morale by making people think they are being spied on by Big Brother, it also does not involve or engage them in any way. Keep your security cameras for security, but when it comes to process improvement, a Lean manager needs to let the workforce take control.
Make sure the content stays focused on objectives, and don’t expect anyone to become a Youtube star or Werner Herzog, but with the right approach, employee video journals can help you keep in touch with their challenges concerns and achievements. It also helps the entire team keep in touch with their story as important members of the organization.