President Obama at “the Gemba”

Keeping things light on a Saturday… New York Magazine has a funny photo story series of President Obama on tours of different factories and laboratories (hat tip to @counternotions on Twitter). The series is called “A History of Obama Feigning Interest in Mundane Things“). I use the term “gemba” (for those who don’t know it) since it’s a common term in the Lean methodology (a Japanese word) that means the place where work is done – the shopfloor in a factory or the point of care in a hospital.

As with any executive visit, a staged “dog and pony” show likely doesn’t show a real reality. As a British friend says:

“The Queen of England thinks the world smells like fresh paint.”

I know the point of the President touring these places isn’t to inculcate a Lean notion of management and process improvement… but it’s funny see these pictures that are reminiscent of any bad factory tour. Photo #20 in the series reminds me of the famous Toyota concept — the “Ohno Circle.” The Ohno Circle (more from Industry Week) was invented by Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno. A new manager or other student would be made to stand in a chalk outline that Ohno had drawn on the ground. The person would have to stand and watch, often, for an entire shift. You would observe and see a far greater level of detail and more waste than you would see in a short “drive-by Gemba,” as some people call them, where you just walk through quickly and don’t see anything in a significant way.

The New York Magazine’s funny caption for Photo #20 said that President Obama resented having to stand in a red square.

In a way, it could also look like “Bad 5S” or “L.A.M.E. 5S” (as in this case from a UK accountancy) if the tape square had been labeled “Commander in Chief”!!!


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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1 Comment on "President Obama at “the Gemba”"

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  1. Dan Markovitz says:

    Maybe we could get some tape squares in the Congress, labeled “Republican Blowhard” and “Democratic Bloviator.”

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