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Business INSIGHTS e-News for Manufacturers
Managing Lean

Running an efficient operation begins with assessing and engaging your suppliers.

No matter how big your operations, you certainly depend on a network of suppliers. That's why it's crucial to efficiently assess their operations. One smart place to begin that assessment is with a gemba walk--a purposeful plant tour--that paints a picture of your supplier's capabilities by using the mantra of lean thinking: "Go see; ask why; show respect."

Author James Womack says the first step, going and seeing (genchi genbutsu), shouldn't take place in a conference room, but where your supplier's work is done: the gemba. While you take the tour, by asking "why," you will learn about what's really going on at a company. It's key to ask your tour host, key managers, the CEO and people actually engaged in the work about the purpose of what they are doing as well as the process.

Respect is then practiced by engaging the supplier in solving problems, helping them find out why problems are occurring, coaching them to think about how to solve them and providing resources to implement improvements. During your gemba walk, you engage people both in explaining and understanding details of the value stream. This process will help your supplier's management make its operations leaner.

In a 30-minute gemba walk, Womack asks 10 simple questions:

1. What are the business issues with this product or service? Inadequate ROI? Poor quality? Late shipments?

2. Who is responsible for the product's value stream?

3. How are orders received from the customer?

4. Where is the pacemaker process, the point where the order triggers production?

5. How capable, available, adequate and waste-free are assembly activities?

6. How available, adequate and waste-free are fabrication activities feeding assembly?

7. How are orders transmitted up the value stream from the pacemaker process?

8. How are materials supplied to the assembly and fabrication processes?

9. How are materials obtained from upstream suppliers?

10. How are employees trained in lean procedures and motivated to apply them?

Your 30-minute walk with key company representatives can quickly and effectively reveal critical issues for improvement, enough for a robust action plan for both you and your supplier.

Gemba Walks and the new edition of Seeing the Whole Value Stream by Womack and Dan Jones, published by the Lean Enterprise Institute, are available from and other booksellers.


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