Toyota’s production system culture (or loss reduction policy) is characterized by simplicity and great leadership. One of these simple things is the famous saying: Gemba, meaning the work site, which means that you go to the work site and notice for yourself. In the Toyota culture, being in the real work site and observing what is happening is one of the things that is required. The engineer is present for long periods at the work site, that is, between the equipment and the workers.
The manager pays daily visits to the factory and the senior manager pays regular visits. Why? In order for them to know things as they really are, they do not sit in the meeting room analyzing matters as they imagine them, but they touch the reality as it is daily. In order for them to analyze the work method permanently, they stand on the problems and defects and solve them.
When you are on the job site, you know the real causes of problems. For example, a major problem may occur in a stomach as a result of a low oil level, but when analyzing the problem, this reason is not raised because it is assumed that someone passes every hour on this equipment and checks the oil level. Thus the discussion of causes tends in the direction of imaginary causes.
But if you are on the job site on a daily basis, you will know that this person only passes once every few hours and that the oil level may not concern him. Then you can fix this defect and work to get this person to do his work and avoid these problems. When you are on the site and you notice maintenance work, for example – as happened with me – you discover the real reasons for the delay in work. It’s not complicated reasons but simple things.
You will notice that the technicians brought tools and then discover that they have forgotten some tools, you may find that some tools do not work, you may discover that the oxygen cylinders were empty, you may discover the long waiting times for someone to come or to bring spare parts, you may discover that the spare parts were not suitable and so on. This is what you won’t discover from your desk. And when you are on the site, you start to think of innovative ways to do the same work, and you find the opportunity to discuss and encourage the ideas of workers.
A general philosophy for all businesses
This matter is not only related to work in factories, but extends to other fields. For example, the presence of the restaurant manager in the kitchen, where he sees the process of serving food to the guests, makes him notice the problems and then solve them. And the presence of the product designer in the place of its real use makes him notice the users of the product and recognize some errors in the design, so he develops the design. Visiting the resource’s website makes us aware of its potential, level of quality, and method of work. And the presence of the computer software preparer in the place of its real use makes him discover some difficulties that the user faces that he did not expect.
I had a recent experience where I visited some employees at their workplace to train them on some programs. I have found that what I do very quickly on my computer takes a long time due to the age of the device used. You may discover poor connectivity to the local or international network, and you may notice the user’s working conditions, where he performs several tasks at the same time, or that there are many individuals using the same device, or that the user finds it difficult to use, and so on. All of this helps you discover the real problems.
It is not surprising that being on site and noticing what is going on there is the basics of the Toyota system culture. The Toyota system aims not to cover up problems and aims to search for the root causes of problems and uproot them. It is a system that relies on facts and analysis, not speculation and false reports. It is a system that relies on continuous development.
This is what is achieved by being on site and observing the progress of operations. You discover problems and discover their real causes, rely on what your eyes see, and continuously develop work. Therefore, this interest in being on the job site and analyzing matters is completely consistent with the rest of the culture elements of the Toyota Production System. Just being on the site and looking around you does not suffice. The purpose is to find out, analyze and develop the truth. The purpose is to think deeply, to search for the root of problems, and to look for ways to improve. It is not a site excursion, but deep thinking, observation and analysis.
Tateti Ahno, the founder of the Toyota System, advised managers to draw a circle on the site, stand in it, and then observe the process and analyze what they see. This is one of Ahno’s famous tips which is the basis of this topic. Why draw a circle? The idea is to stay in the same place for a long time to see what is going on. Another method is the Gemba Walk, that is, to walk around the site.
This means that you visit the site on a daily basis and come back every day with new ideas or problems that need to be solved. You might set a goal each day for your tour, such as checking for safety signs, following quality control techniques, or noticing losses of some kind. In general, in this round, you are looking for losses, problems, and areas of development. The tour may include some conversations with the workers to ask about a problem or make sure of something.
One of the stories that I liked very much in this regard is the story of Japanese engineer Yoji Yokoya, which I read in the book Toyota Way. This engineer was commissioned to develop the Sienna at Toyota to sell it in North America. Although this engineer had previously visited parts of North America, he felt the need to visit the region with the eyes of the engineer who would develop this car.
These are praiseworthy and acceptable words, but the rest of the story is really strange and shows the extent of their keenness to be present in reality and analyze it. This engineer did not ask to visit the big American cities to take a look at the cars and the driving style there. He asked his manager to let him visit North America to drive himself in the fifty American states, the thirteen Canadian provinces, and all parts of Mexico. Indeed, he made this trip and drove in the fifty states, including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Canada and Mexico.
And it has comeAnd to rent the same Sienna car in all of these states to discover ways to develop it and how to run on different roads. Engineer Yokoya returned with ideas to develop the car based on his personal experience. He saw the difference in roads in Canada from the United States, where in Canada they are higher in the middle, perhaps because of the ease of snow melting. He noted the effect of winds near the Mississippi, and noted the difficulty of turning in some narrow roads. And he discovered other things, such as the need for passengers to eat in the car, drink coffee, and buy many goods.
This is how this engineer benefited and Toyota benefited from the philosophy of being on site, observing and analyzing. Find your work site, be there, observe, analyze and develop. Look for losses and take care of safety. Find problems and be constructive. Don’t look for someone to punish, or a problem to hide, but look for a problem and solve it. Experiment for yourself to see results.