Management by standing still: Learning to see

Mike Wroblewski
Tags: lean manufacturing

Early in my management career, the hot management technique was something called Management By Walking Around (MBWA). Basically, it was a good concept for the times since management rarely, if ever, got out of their comfort zone of the office and connected with what was actually happening at gemba (the actual place) on the shop floor. Some may argue the point that disconnected leadership, never-leaving-the-office types, still exists today, and I would agree. However, at least a few company leaders saw some value to venture out to the shop floor and found gemba.

Did this technique work? I think it resulted in only a marginal improvement at best. Management learned how to find the shop floor but ended up not “walking around” but “walking through.” After a brisk walk through and an occasional stop to chat, they quickly got back to work in the office. It turned into an exercise of “being seen” then “to see.” Yes, there are some positive results that can be found in just being seen and showing a genuine interest in activities at gemba. But what you end up with is a mere snap shot of gemba when you could see a movie clip. From my lean prospective, you miss out on a great opportunity to “go to the actual place and see for understanding” (genchi genbutsu).

To seek understanding, we need to move away from Management By Walking Around and move toward Management By Standing Still. Of course, this technique can be directly linked to the famous “ Ohno Circle,” a circle drawn by Taiichi Ohno on the Toyota shop floor for engineers to stand in for hours on end “to see and understand.”

Yes, it takes a strong commitment to “stand still” at gemba, and many may not feel comfortable to just stand and watch at first. This uneasy feeling quickly disappears the longer you stand still. It is amazing what you learn about your processes by seeing for yourself when standing still long enough. Don’t rely on assumptions on what you see, ask many questions. Take a small pocket notebook and pen with you to record your findings, thoughts, questions and ideas. I use this technique quite often with exceptional results. So next time you go to gemba, try thinking movies and not snapshots.

About the author:

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is president of Victory Alliance Technologies, a Greensburg, Ind., firm that specializes in lean implementation. He writes a blog called " Got Boondoggle?" featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. Mike can be reached by e-mail at