Great Processes = Great Results

By on October 17, 2018
Great Processes = Great Results

When I was a young guy, one of the things I was very proud of was being awarded a “Sharpshooter’s Badge” by the Rifle Club at my school. We had a great instructor/coach and over several years and many hours on the rifle range I had become a very good marksman. Our coach, Mr. Wirts, taught us a lesson about marksmanship which I’ve thought about a lot over the years.

Here’s what he taught us: To be a good marksman you do need to view the target with great clarity but, much more importantly, you need to continually focus on the process of firing the rifle, how you hold the rifle, how you squeeze the trigger, how you breathe. He told us that if we really focused on the process of firing the rifle, the results we were striving for, hitting the bullseye, would take care of themselves.

Focus on the process to get the results.

We all know that results are driven by work processes carried out by workers. We also know that it is great processes carried out by engaged workers that drive great results.

Despite this, and as I mentioned in my last article, “The Fallacy of a Focus on Results,” all too often we hear comments like these:

“Our CEO is really focused on results.”

“At our plant the only thing that counts is making the numbers.”

I’m assuming all of us would agree with what Mr. Wirts taught me about firing a rifle. Concentrate on the process and you’ll get the results. And I’m sure we’d all agree that this lesson applies to any process and any results a process is targeted at achieving.

So how can we transform “Our CEO is really focused on results.” to “Our CEO is really focused on work processes.” and “At our plant the only thing that counts is making the numbers.” to “At our plant everyone is focused on improving work processes.”?

Given the belief that this type of shift in perspective is needed, coupled with a commitment to make it happen, a good place to start is for the leadership team to take Gemba Walks through production areas. Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “the actual place where value-creating work occurs.” Here are steps the leadership team should take in implementing Gemba Walks:

Step One: Assess the degree to which they understand the organization’s work processes. Brief first level supervisors on the Gemba Walks that will be occurring and have the supervisors brief them on what to look for in the areas for which the supervisors have responsibility. Have supervisors develop simple checklists members of the leadership team can use preparatory to walking through the work areas.

Step Two: Make a firm commitment to take frequent Gemba Walks through production areas, guided by the understanding that there are three primary goals for these walks, these being:

  1. To have active, positive interactions with line workers about the work they do.
  2. To increase the degree to which line workers understand that the work they do is highly valued and that their knowledge is respected.
  3. To gradually increase the degree to which line workers understand that the company depends upon their knowledge and creativity to remain competitive.

And members of the leadership team must agree that they will never, under any circumstances, play “gotcha” during these walks. The walks are not about catching employees doing the wrong thing. If things that shouldn’t be happening are seen, supervisors should be told about them.

Step Three: Have first line supervisors brief line workers on the Gemba Walks and what their primary purpose is: To increase the leadership team’s understanding of what they do so the leadership team is better able to support their work.

Step Four: Take the walks through production areas. In each area, engage employees in brief, focused discussions about work processes. Initially, be prepared for reticence on the part of line workers to interact openly with you. Explain to them that you’ll be doing these walks regularly and that the purpose of them is to learn more about the work they do so you’ll be better prepared to support their work.

Step Five: Have monthly meetings of the leadership team, discussing the following:

  1. What have we learned about work processes during these Gemba Walks?
  2. What actions should be taken based on what we’ve learned?
  3. What have we learned about line worker attitudes toward the work they do?
  4. What have we learned about the ability of our first line supervisors to drive higher levels of engagement in their team members?
  5. To what degree did line workers openly share problems in their work areas?
  6. What exemplary performance have we observed?
  7. How can we best reinforce this performance?

Step Six: Continue the Gemba walks. Continuous improvement is forever.

As this process is followed additional needs will be identified. For example, it’s quite possible that your first line supervisors will need more training on how to be effective continuous improvement coaches. You may need to develop more standardized work instructions. Work spaces may need to be optimized with the 5S System. The flow of products through the value stream may need to be improved using Value-Stream Mapping. And there will be more. But the six-step Gemba Walk process I’ve described is a good start on the Lean transformation journey for which there is no finish line.

And over time, these benefits will accrue to your organization:

  • You’ll have a better understanding of the work processes that drive the results you’re trying to achieve.
  • You will have identified the major impediments to higher levels of continuous improvement.
  • You’ll be more aware of the degree to which employees are engaged in the work they do.
  • You’ll have a clearer understanding of the effectiveness of your first line supervisors as continuous improvement coaches.
  • When line workers refer to your company, they’ll use the term “we” rather than “they.”
  • Line workers will believe that you highly respect their intelligence, knowledge, and creativity.
  • Higher degrees of trust will exist in your organization, driving higher levels of candor.
  • And your organization will experience higher levels of product quality, productivity, and profitability.

Finally, regarding my own work, I’m going to recall the voice of Mr. Wirts, “focus on the process and you’ll hit your target.”

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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