Taiichi Ohno was reputed to take new graduates at Toyota to the factory floor and draw a circle on the ground. The graduate would then be told to stand there and observe; if upon his return they had not seen enough then he would tell them to observe for longer. While it might feel like something out of a Karate Kid movie Taiichi Ohno was really teaching a simple lesson. The only way to really understand a problem is to go to where it happens and see it.
While Lean and the Toyota Production System is largely credited with pioneering this approach, I suspect that like most parts of the TPS it’s just a nice packaging of a common sense observation – Kanban for example was just a reflection of the way a Supermarket has to maintain stock on its shelves: a pull system where the consumer takes an item and leaves space to bake more bread, or butcher another animal etc to replace it.
Rickover (father of the nuclear submarine) understood this only too well and long before the TPS would force ships’ captains into boiler suits to crawl the bilge of their ships with him looking for problems on ships in for repair and refitting.
“What it takes to do a job will not be learned from management courses. It is principally a matter of experience, the proper attitude, and common sense – none of which can be taught in a classroom… Human experience shows that people, not organizations or management systems, get things done.” – Rickover
Co-locationing cross functional teams is just another kind of Genchi Genbutsu, it allows all the members of the team to see and understand the problems that others are solving. Lockheed Martin has colocated designers, contractors, pilots and welders etc in their Skunkworks since the ’40s. The JPL has its Team X and Agile teams colocate everyone from their end customers to the sytem admins if possible.
Many years ago when I was running the IT team at a SAAS business we had a simple task tray application which measured system performance and warned of basic metrics being off trend (user sessions, average response time and # of database sessions). We displayed this on a huge TV in the middle of the building – right between the customer service area and the main developers’ workspace. When a problem happened the phones would ring, alarms would sound and within seconds developers were talking to customer service reps, who were in turn on the phone with customers about the problem. Nobody was told to ‘log a ticket’.
Leaders, get out of your boardroom and out of your confortable office shielded from the world by your highly efficent PA; go and see how the sausages are made. Walk the floor, talk to your staff and spend time doing some of their work. If your product people are complaining about IT ‘never delivering’ then get some extra desks and have them go and sit in the middle of your dev group to understand why. If your inventory system always fails, go to the store room and watch boxes being unpacked and catalogued. If sales are down, go with your sales team, visit prospective clients and hear from their own mouths why your product doesn’t cut the mustard.
Genchi Genbutsu – Go and See.