LEAN teaches that it is important to go to the Gemba – the scene of the crime, so to speak, before we decide on what to change. This is the place were value is created and where we can best understand how to improve.
Tiachii Ohno used the phrase:
Don’t look with you eyes, look with your feet.
Don’t think with your head, think with your hands.
The principle behind these words is that in order to solve real problems we need to get as close to reality as we can. We need to go beyond what we perceive and what we might think.
We should not rely on data and reports alone to know what is really going on. That is why he encouraged us to go to the factory floor (use your feet) then interact with people (think with your hands) to truly understand what is happening.
By using “Andon” signalling and “Kanban” material handling line managers could see directly if a manufacturing process was performing well or not. There was a time when factory managers could meet customer demand without the use of an ERP system.
Gemba walks have proven extremely useful for physical factories. However, how is this done for today's Information Factories?
Information Factories are a category of business were data (raw material) is processed to create insights – the product of an information factory. The machinery includes data intake streams, data processing (removal of waste), data lakes, machine learning, and other forms of artificial intelligence (AI) to create insights that customers desire and willing to pay for.
Here as with physical factories there are performance targets to reach, standards to conform to, quality to achieve, safety (people, equipment and data to protect), and environmental impacts and other risks to address.
The challenge for LEAN practitioners is that Gemba for these factories is not something you can directly observe. When the place where value is created is hidden and unseen we need another way for us to "Go and See."
Gemba Walks for Information Factories
For information factories we don’t look with our eyes we look with our algorithms. We don’t think we our heads we think with AI.
What Taiicho Ohno reminds us is that improvement requires people. And for that we need algorithms and AI where the rules are transparent and explainable for people to "go and see."
I wonder if Taiicho Ohno might say to us today:
Don’t look with you algorithms, look with your eyes.
Don’t think with your AI, think with your head.
We need to re-imagine what Gemba walks look so we can better observe the information factory floor.
Perhaps, walking the physical Gemba will be replaced by walking digital threads that provide transparency and explainability so we can better understand and interpret what is really going on.
This "Gemba" Thread could help reconstruct the "scene of the crime" so people can observe, interact, and take steps to improve the place where value is created.
1. "Digital Threads: The Future of Compliance: https://www.leancompliance.ca/post/digital-threads-the-future-of-compliance