From Walking to Watching – Improving Productivity
In the last issue, we focused on how a Gemba Walk could enhance productivity. By using observations taken during a Gemba Walk, production supervisors improve efficiency and ultimately, profitability. Now it's time to stop walking and delve into the power of stationary observation.

A few issues back, we discussed how problem solving is much like investigating a crime scene. (Visit "Observe Before Disturbing the Crime Scene" in the MPower archive.) Japanese detectives refer to the crime scene as the Gemba, and news reporters in that country refer to themselves as reporting from Gemba when they're on location. It's the place where the action is. In manufacturing, Gemba is the place where value is added. It's your shop floor.

The architect of the Toyota Production System (TPS), Taiichi Ohno, developed an effective method for teaching students about the process of 5 Whys. (Visit the MPower archive to read more about the 5 Whys Ohno placed a student inside a circle and instructed him to observe. That's all; just watch. The student couldn't touch anything or step outside the circle, and was tasked to look for ways to improve the process he was observing by questioning why things were done and why actions occurred. With that sole focus, students were forced to concentrate on uncovering varying forms of waste and watching for ways in which it could be eliminated.

The exact same method can be used to make efficiency improvements. Imagine yourself placed inside a circle where all you can do is observe – you can't speak, instruct, or touch. In some respects, it's the opposite of the Gemba Walk. You remain in the same place and watch a single process or piece of equipment for a period of time, and your only job is to look for ways to improve it. With that laser-beam focus, you're bound to spot inefficient tool placement, wasted motion, wasted time waiting, and over-processing.

This is the foundation of the Kokai Watch. During a Kokai Watch, a group of six to eight people (including managers, peers, and outsiders) observe a worker for about an hour. Ideally, the observers should not be familiar with the process, much like Ohno's student in a circle. The ground rules are that they cannot ask questions or otherwise interfere, and there are no repercussions to the worker. The observers may only take notes about improvement ideas. The group reconvenes to discuss their observations and the areas they noted for improvements, both to efficiency and safety.

Sounds like a good idea, doesn't it? It is. There's only one minor problem, and that's human nature. Despite all the reassurances to the worker that it isn't a focus on job performance and only a method to improve overall efficiency and safety, it's a bit nerve-wracking to be watched by a group of people. It's a bit nerve-wracking just to be watched by the boss. Let's face it, observation changes behavior. It's true in the animal kingdom (which is why researchers take great pains to avoid detection when studying wild animals), and it's true on the shop floor.

When workers are being watched, they're going to be a lot more cognizant of what they're doing. They're less apt to fail to follow procedure, break the rules and take short cuts. Safety concerns notwithstanding, some short cuts may actually improve efficiency, but you'll never see them because the workers know they're being watched. On the flip side, some short cuts may have really catastrophic consequences to safety, but again, you probably won't observe them while you're standing there watching.

Don't give up on the idea for a Kokai Watch or "unnoticed" observation; there is a solution. Video cameras. Efficiently placed cameras let you watch without being noticed. You get to observe actual behavior – behavior that can lead you to adding efficiency improvements or avoiding catastrophe. Cameras also allow you to monitor more than a single location or piece of equipment. One of the Kokai Watch rules is to observe silently. Imagine the outcome improvements if the Kokai team could watch a monitor and openly discuss their observations and ideas for improvement as a brainstorming session. It's exponentially better.

MPower is in place to provide you with exactly this type of monitoring. Our state-of-the-art cameras can be placed to let you see exactly what you want, and they'll also provide you with a perspective from overhead that you will never achieve by watching from the shop floor. Contact us to learn how you can begin to take advantage of "unnoticed" observation while getting an incredible return on your investment. In fact, with our guarantee, we'll identify the savings that will exceed your monthly fee or you pay nothing.

Don't miss opportunities for efficiency and safety improvements because you weren't watching!