Go Listen: The Sound of Drinking Water
People who take the lessons of Toyota’s production system to heart know that it is vital to go to the place where value is produced to learn what is really going on—the Gemba.
The advice is to “Go See,” not just once but repeatedly, especially if you are responsible and accountable for organizing people and resources to accomplish something. You “Go see” to get clues to solve problems as well as to have a sense of typical performance, so unusual changes will be easier to spot. That’s the essence of quality control.
One reason to have an organized and clean workplace is to make it easier to see if something is out of place; things out of place are signs of one or more potential problems that deserve attention.
Go See is not limited to sight. I was reminded of sound as a trigger to problem identification a couple of weeks ago. My wife and I heard our dog Andy drinking water, enough to ask each other “Is Andy drinking more than usual?”
We didn’t have a control chart or any other formal measures of water consumption, just the sense that the sound of living with our dog was different--we’re in year 13 of living with Andy so we have a lot of sound memories stored in our brains. It was the sound of lapping up water that seemed special, noticeable, maybe more than usual.
This sound and the question it prompted started us on a diagnostic journey to determine a cause. There was more observation of Andy, cause analysis, development of countermeasure(s). The scientific inquiry matches the steps in standard problem-solving methods like A3 or QC Story.
It turns out Andy has lymphoma and we’re now treating him to make him feel better.
I’ve been to several vet visits since January 1. I’m always interested in how vets examine patients that can’t use words to describe what’s going on. When veterinarians do a physical exam of an animal, they complement looking with hearing, touching, and even smelling before they extend their senses with modern lab tests of blood, urine and tissue and the range of imaging techniques that match what’s available in human health care.
That brings me back to what people should do when they are caring for a work system. Go see but also go hear and apply all your other senses to understand how the system is performing. If you go regularly, then you have a reference set of sights, sounds, maybe even smells, against which to compare new events that may signal a change in performance that invites your intervention.