The tenor of what “lean” is about is shifting, at least in some places, toward the line leader as improver, teacher and coach. Successfully adopting that role requires a qualification that I wish I saw more of as I work with industrial clients – curiosity.
To succeed in this role, a supervisor must be intently curious about, not only the minute-by-minute performance, but what things are affecting it, or could affect it.
Even if he is just walking by, his eyes must be checking – is there excess inventory piling up? Are all of the standard WIP spots filled? Is anyone struggling with the job? Are the carts in the right places? Pressures and temperatures OK? Kanbans circulating correctly? Workers all wearing PPE? Safety glasses? Ear plugs? Does the fork truck driver have his seatbelt fastened?
Though there should also be deliberate checks as part of his standard work, a leader needs to be intently curious about what is happening all of the time.
To improve things requires even more curiosity. “What obstacles do you think are now keeping you from reaching the target?” is not a question that should be answered casually. Rather, the preparation to answer it properly requires careful study – being curious – about what operational conditions must be changed to reach the target.
Sadly, though, my experience is that true curiosity is a pretty rare commodity. A plant manager that can spout off a barrage of facts and figures about how things have to be, but is surprised every time the math doesn’t reflect his view of reality doesn’t impress me much.
Niwa-sensai said once (probably many times) “A visual control that doesn’t trigger action is just a decoration.”
You have to be curious about what those visual controls are telling you. What good is a gage if it is supposed to read between 4 and 6, but drops to 0 and nobody notices?
That supervisor walking through the area needs to be visually sweeping those gages, looking for leaks, anything unusual or abnormal, and taking action.
“How did that stain get here?” Run the trap line. The process, as designed, shouldn’t let anything leak. Why did it? What is really happening?
All we practitioners can do is patiently, again and again, walk the line with them, ask what they see, stand in the chalk circle with them, and do our best to teach them to see what we do.
Show them the system, show them the future consequences of letting this little thing slide – how second shift is going to be brought to their knees because the work isn’t being processed according to the FIFO rules.
I suspect, though, that at least a few leaders get promoted and somehow believe they reach a level where they are exempt from checking and teaching. That’s someone else’s job.
But if not them, who? And how do they know it is getting done?