RobertThis Blog contribution is from Robert St Louis. He is an accomplished executive and analytical business leader with a proven record of delivering significant earnings in dynamic, high-growth, environments. Acknowledged for developing effective leaders and cohesive teams, as well as Lean/Six-sigma deployment and sustainability. A committed and empowering servant leader: skilled in systems thinking, quality assurance and compliance, cGMP, engineering/control, and motivating staff toward fulfillment of the company’s mission.

Robert has served as USAF Senior Air Traffic Controller (RAPCON); Assistant Chief of Standards and Evaluation; Assistant Chief ATC Training; Pilot / Controller Liaison; Public Affairs Photographer; 1962 CG / ISG; 325th OSS

This posting reminds us of the value of being proactive in going to the place where work is performed and envisioning an ideal state. Enjoy!


When starting a lean or continuous improvement journey, one of the initial steps, ‘learning to see’ is frequently where most begin.   Employees and/or practitioners go where the work is performed and learn to identify various forms of waste, such as excess inventory, extra motion, waiting, etc.  The manifestations of waste are relatively easy to identify in a manufacturing environment and a bit more challenging, but not impossible to see, in an administrative environment.   Learning to see is about identifying what exists within the current state.  Conversely, ‘going to see’ or ‘genchi genbutsu’ (going to the place where the work is actually performed) is, or could be, more about seeing what is not there.

Going to see requires engagement with the problem and the staff dealing with it, seeing the reality of what is occurring, and proceeding forward without censure.  Going to see, challenges employees to envision a solution, or multiple solutions, for the problem or potential problem.  It’s about seeking opportunities for continuous improvement and/or refinement.  rear-view-mirrorIf employees, regardless of their role (e.g. operator, manager, executive), only learn to see and do not actively go and see…they become like a driver, merging onto to the freeway, but looking solely in their rearview mirror.  The risk is that they will crash into their future state and be profoundly perplexed as to ‘why’ this occurred.   While they had the benefit of hindsight, they lacked vision.

Learning to see is more about “what happened?” whereas going to see is more about “why is this happening” and “how can we improve?”  Going to see engages our critical thinking, a skill necessary for long-term success. Going to see helps us develop the skills, discipline, and patience, necessary to move from being reactionary, during crisis, to becoming anticipatory and, thus, prepared to handle crisis.

When we go and see, we begin to see things for what they can be, what is possible, versus what they are today, or how they exist in the current state.

An example would be looking at a particular KPI, or metric, and seeing that quoting lead times are expanding.  Having learned to see, you identify that the waste of waiting exists within the current state.  A reactive solution would be to work overtime until quoting lead times become more reasonable or aligned with business expectations.   However, without going to see and understanding why they expanded, initially, it is quite likely that the problem will reoccur.   By going to see, and engaging the quoting team to seek an understanding of the problem, as well as potential solutions, you and your colleagues may become better problem solvers.

By going to see, you may discover the quote time expansion is related to capacity, constraints, and/or capabilities.  If capacity is the root cause, additional staffing may be a potential solution.

But wait…why is staffing insufficient?  It may be helpful to go and see how information flows into, within, and out of the department.  It is possible that the issue of capacity is related to a constraint.  At a certain point in the process, all quotes may flow through a single individual with a particular knowledge or skill.  This individual, or role, with the golden skill or screw may be the constraint.  As the business grew, redundant knowledge or skills were never developed within the team.  Thus, when that person, or role, is absent or overwhelmed…a bottleneck occurs. Redeploying or cross training resources may be a greater value to your business, and your customers, than additional headcount.

But, don’t take my word for it, go and see!


Learn more by attending our upcoming educational Seminar on Gemba Walks.

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