Category Archives: Direct Observation

How to Observe

Last blog, I talked about the most important lean tool being the eyes.  The eyes allow a person to the reality of what is happening and gather facts.

So, if direct observation is important then how should a person go about doing it?

Here are a few pointers I have picked up along the way:

  • Have a purpose before you go out to observe.  Are you going out to see a particular problem?  Are you going to audit a specific process?  Is there a process you trying to improve?  A specific type of waste you are looking for?  Whatever your purpose, understand it before you go out to observe.
  • Explain what you are doing.  People get cautious and worried when someone is just standing to the side watching their every move.  Tell them why you are there and ask them to explain anything they feel is important.
  • Be in the moment. Don’t answer the phone.  Don’t start other conversations.  Just observe.  Stand in one area and watch what is happening with scrutinizing intent.
  • Ask clarifying questions.  If you need to better understand something, ask the person doing the work questions.  Don’t leave without having answers to your questions.
  • Take notes.  You are there for a purpose, so write down what you need to remember.  Notes of what you observed are your facts.
  • Take prompt action.  Don’t wait days to do anything with the facts you have gathered.  Things change quickly so use what have you seen before the facts become outdated.

Good luck and happy observation!

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The Most Important Lean Tool

Your eyes.  Plain and simple.  Without them you can’t go and see what is actually happening.

There are stories about Taiichi Ohno leaving engineers in a circle for hours to observe the process.  The engineer was to discover the waste in the process.  What was not creating value?  Then address it.

Organizations have instituted a policy stating that a person can’t talk about a problem unless they have seen it.  The goal is to get everyone to understand what actually is the problem and not what they hear is the problem or jump to solutions.

A person can walk out their doors and onto the production floor in order to observe what is happening.  But observation may not always be easy.  What if it is an order entry person that does all their work in a computer?  Sit with that person and actually watch them enter orders.  Ask questions.  Use tools like process or value stream maps to create a visual of the work to see.

Even leadership work can be made visible in order to observe what is actually happening.  I put my scheduled on a white board so the area could see when I was going to be there to look for waste.  Every Tuesday at 2:30.  If I didn’t show up, people knew it and asked about it.

Are you using your most important lean tool as often as you should?