lördag 25 november 2017

Not "Go And See": Come And Listen!

In the world of lean thinking there is a dose of healthy skepticism about numbers and reports. Taiichi Ohno, the most prominent of the creators of the Toyota Production System, was known to put the papers away and instead say: "Let's go and see for ourselves!"

Going down to the shop floor, the gemba, the place where value is created (and sometimes wasted), is to actually grasp the current situation and understand what is going on. Down there, anchored in reality, Ohno-san could tell the people what to do based on what he actually saw happening.

Now, where is the gemba in a knowledge factory, for instance a group who is developing changes in a digital service?

I have seen offices where "lean experts" from the factory floor has tried to apply the tools of the factory on what they believed was the knowledge factory gemba: the desks, the meeting rooms, the copier machines and office supplies.

That is of course ridiculous (and the result more so) since knowledge work isn't about shuffling papers around on a desk or having meetings. Knowledge work happen in and between people's brains. The gemba is the conversations between the people participating in the work of gaining mutual understanding of needs and how to meet them using digital tools.

We sometimes try to adopt the lean principle of visual management when we do service development. Scrum and other agile practices has borrowed the idea of the kan ban, visualizing the workflow maybe on a board so that we can see where we get stuck.

Sometimes managers, in the spirit of Toyota, wants to go and see what is happening on the "factory floor". If there is a kanban-board available, there is where they naturally will go. And sometimes ask: "What does the board tell us?" "Why can't people create visualizations of their so called 'work' so that we understand?" "We need to tell them what to visualize!"

The thing is that the kanban board, or any other visualization tool such as Jira or Trello, is not the gemba!. It is not the place where work happen!

The work happens in people's brains when they have a productive exchange of thoughts. In the conversations. The visual aids we might use are just aids for better conversations and collaborations.

So, if you are a manager assigned to help people doing knowledge work, please understand this:

It is NOT about "go and see"!

It is all about come and listen!

And share. And participate.

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