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16May2014

Despatch from the Trenches XV – A Gemba walk a week might save you in millions

“Definition: A Gemba (and sometimes Genba) walk is the term used to describe personal observation of work – where the work is happening. The original Japanese term comes from gembutsu, which means “real thing.” It also sometimes refers to the “real place.”

Lean experts will tell you that the best way to learn about what to improve by way of methods and processes in the construction site is by actually observing it at the real place. That’s what a Gemba walk is. And this is particularly expected to be done by senior management. See some of the details here on how to do a Gemba walk. One specific point worth emphasizing is to do the walk “without a specific agenda” and “with the intention of not to find faults, but to find room for improvement”.

In my second week at Nadhi, I was given an assignment i.e. to carry out a study on material wastage in a power plant site in a remote location at the Western Ghats in Southwestern Maharashtra. During this study I had to walk the floor with the client team and ask them lot of questions, which was only one part, and perhaps the easy part. On the other hand, I had to do a lot of analysis on the materials/consumables received and when and where they were being consumed. At the end of every week, we usually have a status call where all of us consultants from various site report progress and cross learn from each other with questioning and directions coming from Kalyan.

Probably because it was my first site and it was the first time I was doing a Gemba and I was learning the ropes on the various lean techniques, the assignment was not going too well. My boss had peppered me with questions about the status of the study, material status, and what new processes had been implemented. After a week’s time spent on uninformed answers and promises to follow up on his questions, he suggested that I spend at least 2 hours a day in “The Gemba.”

Wanting to give it my all I dug my heels right in and began spending my 2 hours a day in The Gemba apart from my other responsibilities. Surprisingly, it worked! Before long I was amazed at what I’d learned. The study was done using qualitative and quantitative techniques. Qualitatively, it involved direct observation of the labor crew on the fabrication and welding activities. The qualitative study also involved close monitoring of the material receipt and consumption between the stores and the labor crews. Quantitatively, the study involved comparing the material estimates developed by the QC (quality control) engineer with the actual consumption. We analyzed the data collected through the entire cycle, and came up with some recommendations that were then implemented at the site. A summary follows.

Observations during Gemba walk:

The following are some of the observations of the labor crew during the course of the study.

The pictures that follow show a few samples of the observations below.

  • Labor crews tend to leave half consumed boxes of welding rods at the work area typically when they are done with a joint and they take a break (for lunch or at the end of the day)
  • Labor crews tend to leave loose welding rods (or filler wires or grinding wheels) should it slip or fall out of their hands, particularly when they are perched on top of a scaffold
  • Labor crews tend to not use the complete welding rod either when they are tack welding or if the joint is completed and they are starting a new joint.

Basing on the observations, we felt that a lot of the wastage is due to lack of paying attention to materials and possibly some amount of lack of awareness of the value associated with the wastage.

Recommendations:

  • Ensure that the estimation of the consumable materials is done prior to the start of the work. This estimation should be used to drive procurement and be done in a timely fashion to ensure that material arrive nearly just-in-time.
  • Ensure that the labor crews bring the pit rods, stubs, and/or other used materials back. The discipline of bringing them back will create awareness about the waste. This also has the side benefit of better housekeeping at the site.
  • Labor crews could be made aware of the prices of the various materials to create an awareness of the amount of money being lost due to avoidable wastage.
  • Proactively look for deviations between actual(s) and estimates as a possible warning. Too little consumption could potentially be a quality issue leading to rework and too much consumption could lead to unnecessary material consumption, aka wastage.

Material Savings:

  • Initially between estimated quantity and actual quantity there was lot of difference as shown in below chart
  • It was identified that some of the welding rods were not effectively utilized
  • After following suggested recommendations, utilization of welding rods became effective and usage is stabilized which is shown highlighted in the below analysis

Nowadays I perform a Gemba Walk before anything else at client project locations. As I walk the project site, I observe waste (if any), which might be an indicator of non-value activities. The more that waste exists, the greater the problems that exist in the organization.

During Gemba Walks, many a time, there are no good answers to the questions raised by me. That’s because people are used to doing work a certain way, and I was now questioning the basics of it. But together we learn and learn ways and means to save on materials, improve processes while retaining quality. When performed properly, the Gemba Walk is a much more powerful tool than just sitting somewhere and only discussing problems. It improves construction, saves money, and does that without losing quality.

  • 16 May, 2014
  • srikanths
  • 33 Comments

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