Businesses have been striving to improve performance by re-engineering processes for decades, however, in manufacturing, efficiency and sustainability are still a long way behind target. Lean philosophy has made an impact but industry needs to improve its implementation and better involve teams to reach its potential.
There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.Peter F. Drucker
The lean approach brings a simple idea: to relentlessly work on eliminating waste from the manufacturing process. In lean, waste is anything that does not add value from your customer’s perspective; in essence, anything the customer is unwilling to pay for.
Here we explore how to more effectively identify waste by combining lean concepts such as Gemba walks with the DILO (Day In the Life Of) tool. This structured work analysis approach identifies and removes waste while building trust and collaboration within the team – making results more sustainable. There are five steps:
Gemba means “actual place” in Japanese. Lean thinkers use it to indicate the place where value is created. In the manufacturing industry, the shop floor is considered the Gemba. Japanese companies often supplement Gemba with the related term “genchi genbutsu” — essentially “go and see for yourself” — to stress the importance of empiricism.
The Gemba walk is a very effective method for connecting leaders with their team members while finding opportunities for improvement. It is common for leaders to be surprised at how work is really being done – in many manufacturing the amount of existing waste is endless.
The walk can observe activities happening on the shopfloor or administrative areas. Typical findings are moving and waiting; numerous authorisation forms must be completed before executing work and manually transferring information from paper or excel worksheets to different software.
Before going to Gemba it is essential to plan: define the theme for the walk and the areas that will be visited. Also set the time that will be dedicated to the walk, choosing if it will be a period, a day or the duration of a certain activity. This is communicated to the teams beforehand to ensure transparency and openness.
To ensure that the Gemba walk itself is a good use of time, effective leaders keep their eyes and ears open and favour observing and learning over talking. They focus their attention on the tasks and processes rather than the people.
All team members should know what a Gemba walk is and its objectives. People must be comfortable being observed, understand why it’s important and be encouraged to contribute and explain activities to the observers. This activity allows leaders and those executing the work to exchange ideas, increase their awareness of the amount of waste in daily work, and propose improvements.
To increase the effectiveness of the Gemba walk, the DILO (Day in the Life of) tool can help register and structure the observations. The tool is simple to use, and it identifies three categories of tasks:
Saying that waste is unavoidable sounds extraordinary, but it refers to the required tasks that do not aggregate direct value, even though they are needed.
The DILO analysis is used to evaluate the “as is work” and not the “what work should be”. And the only way to know what happens is to go to Gemba and see for yourself.
“Better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times”.Asian proverb
Before the Gemba walk two activities take place for people who normally execute the job, firstly they are informed about the process and secondly, they are given the opportunity to explain the work that will be performed. It is essential to register the activity description and duration to later facilitate analysis of which activities are value adding or are considered waste.
Focusing on the job, asking questions, and listening to the people doing the work is crucial. The Gemba time is dedicated to:
Once the gemba walk is completed, the activities registered are discussed, and the categories are defined. The amount of value-added work and waste is discussed within the group in a meeting, known as the Kaizen circle. Here improvement ideas are generated and discussed, and the team proposes actions to remove waste.
One challenge that typically arises during these discussions is a cycle of endless debate especially during the categorisation of activities. It is healthy to listen to the different perspectives, but the target is to eliminate the maximum identified waste. A focus on the quality of the discussions and suggestions is always better than resolving every issue. One way to facilitate discussion is to ensure that all team members are clear about the main categories of waste. The lean methodology provides a clear explanation of the 8 main sources of waste:
We will analyse two examples: one job performed in the field and another in the control room, demonstrating the tool’s flexibility.
4.1 Job performed in the field
Let’s consider that the theme of this Gemba walk is “Adding raw material to the product reactor”, and the person who will be observed is the production operator. The table below shows an example DILO analysis for this activity.
Independently of the category, by just looking at the description of the activities, it is easy to identify that there is room for improvements. The added value time of the job is only 15%. The summary of the observation is charted in the picture below:
In this example, most pure waste is related to motion (unnecessary movements by people) and transportation (unnecessary moving of materials). Safety requirements and picking and cleaning tools are also unavoidable waste but can be minimised. Countermeasures can be various, and some of the solutions pointed out during the Kaizen circle are:
4.2 Job performed in the control room
Let’s consider that the theme of this Gemba walk is “Follow up the production operator’s first task of the day”, and the person that will be observed is, obviously, the production operator. Please see the table below with the detailed DILO:
In this job, the added value time is 33%. The summary of the observation is presented in the chart below:
In this example, most pure waste is related to motion (unnecessary movements by people). In offices, the wasted motion includes walking, reaching for materials, searching for files, excess mouse clicks, and duplicate data entry. Countermeasures can be various, and some of the solutions pointed out during the Kaizen circle are:
Following the DILO analysis, all the improvements are registered, and actions are assigned. The action follow-up is done during existing daily meetings and regular continuous improvement meetings, depending on the type of generated action. Keeping actions and status accessible ensures transparency with a single version of the truth to all involved, contributing to reaching consensus between Manufacturing and Continuous Improvement.
It is crucial that all people observed receive feedback on suggestions and activities taken, showing them respect and commitment to continuous improvement initiatives.
Performing a Gemba walk benefits the organisation’s leaders and the team members on the frontline. Processes can be streamlined, and everyone’s jobs can be made more accessible and given more value, creating an environment of autonomy and, at the same time, accountability. Combining with tools like DILO provide more structure and make follow up and improvements more effective.
It is possible to observe an actual “day in the life of”, remove waste and refocus our energies to create more value for the customer. When discussing removing waste, consider the existing work processes and opportunities for simplification.
Remember, this is not a “time and motion study”; staff engagement is critical. Listen to the people who know the tasks, value their experience and knowledge. Guarantee action follow-up and ensure all people observed during the Gemba walks receive feedback on suggestions and actions, showing them respect.
By combining your Gemba walks with other tools such as visual management tools including whiteboards and Kanban boards, a continuous improvement culture starts to become engrained.
And remember to evaluate your work. Have you ever used the DILO yourself? How about starting it now? And keep in mind that the essence is to remove waste, not to create new ones.