Lean Haiku – Fujio Cho in the Gemba

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When I was in elementary school I couldn’t stand poetry.  I didn’t mind reading it, but I absolutely despised having to write poems.  I found it bothersome trying to make everything rhyme.  Then the teacher taught me about haiku.  “Those kids in Japan sure are lucky for not having to make everything rhyme,” I thought.  I still find making stuff rhyme a pain, and being grown up I don’t have to do stuff like that just because the ‘teacher says.’  So I won’t.  I am going to ‘do haiku’ instead.

Haiku fits into the lean paradigm because only having 17 syllables to make your point forces a lot of thought, and reflection leading to concision (think fitting your story on one side of one piece of A3 size paper).  If you think about economy of effort and concision which is certainly the goal of, or the natural outcome of the lean philosophy, 17 syllables is certainly more concise than Beowulf.

So, all that being said I will bare my artistic soul to your literary criticism and share with you my first Lean Haiku. It’s called Fujio Cho on the Way to His Office.

stand in the gemba
an eagle spying details
wisdom follows this

The subject of the poem is Fujio Cho, the first president of the Toyota Georgetown, Kentucky plant.  It relates the first part of chapter 18 of Jeffrey Liker’s The Toyota Way. This chapter tells us of the importance of going to the actual place and seeing the actual thing (genchi gembutsu).  Mr. Cho would stop at various places on the floor of the plant (in the Gemba) on the way to his office and just watch stuff happen. The point of the poem is that Fujio didn’t just go to the gemba for morale’s sake – to show that he felt comfortable around the operators.  He didn’t talk to a bunch of people.  He just went and studied the work taking place looking for deviation from the ‘normal.’  He would watch to assure that standardized work was being followed, was material flowing as it should, how would people respond when there were problems, etc.

A few rules for genchi gembutsu:

  1. Watch first, ask questions later.
  2. When you see abnormality ask why, don’t correct, don’t judge.
  3. Be intellectually humble.

What are your rules when you are in the gemba?  Do you feel that you do it enough?  What are some non-manufacturing gemba(s)?  Comments welcome.

Ed. Note – The presence of a umich.edu link in this post in no way indicates that the author condones, sanctions, or otherwise justifies any public praise for said university.  It remains the position of the author that beyond Dr. Liker not much of anything good has ever emanated from up there.  Go Bucks!

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