Matt Hrivnak

Kaizen: There's always another future state

Yes, that’s right, the new hit CBS show ‘Undercover Boss’ is an engaging, and often times touching, CEO gemba walk.  Albeit sneaky, the gemba walks taken by these CEO’s are just as illuminating as the walks done by lean practitioners and kaizen event participants everyday.


For those unfamiliar with a gemba walk, it is a walk (i.e., plant tour) taken by managers (or lean participants) to GO AND SEE the actual work as it is being done today.  This removes all of the confusion and distortion of facts that is inherent in multi-level management situations.  The individual that is performing the walk will typically have a goal in mind at the beginning of the walk.  For example, they may want to look at a particular area, or at a particular type of chart that is used throughout the plant in various locations.  In addition to this goal, they will often ask questions of the supervisors and operators.  The most common would probably be “How often does that happen?” and “Is your supervisor aware of this issue?”  During a gemba walk, one can uncover many more issues than sifting through production reports and printouts.  There is no substitute for GO AND SEE.


While some of the ‘Undercover Boss’ show may seem staged, the overall show is terrific and you really have to applaud these CEOs.  Each of them has been very understanding of their employees and at the true issues causing many of the problems they encountered.  Once the CEOs took the chance to GO AND SEE, they started the process of improvement.  It all comes back to the basic question, “how can you correct an issue that you don’t know exists?”


‘Undercover Boss’ is fantastic and I encourage anyone that is looking to improve their operations to watch a few episodes just to get familiar with the overall idea of the gemba walk.  Now, one thing to keep in mind is that on the show, the employees do not know that the CEO is the person they are working with.  On a gemba walk, there are no secrets.  The people taking the walk should (at least some of them) be known to the employees being observed.  Otherwise, you will create distrust within the organization and your lean efforts are doomed to fail.


Here’s a link to the show:



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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

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