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Learning to See

8/8/2014 4:00:00 PM
Article by Alan Severance

One of the hardest things to do is to learn to “See.” Over time, many leaders learn what to look for, or look at, when we are on the shop floor or in the office. We usually do not have the time, or take the time, to see everything, so our experiences tell us where to look and what to look for that may be causing a disturbance of some kind. Most often, we are seeking negative behavior or its consequences. In a shop full of safe workers wearing their eye protection, a person without glasses looks out of place to me. This is something ingrained in my brain to the point that if I am in any shop, anywhere, I will immediately spot someone without glasses. I even cause my wife to groan when I watch DIY shows and see someone demolishing a kitchen or nailing new flooring without their glasses on!

I have watched managers, supervisors, engineers, and consultants frequently over the years who know what they are looking at when surveying their shops. They can quickly take in the panorama before them and zero in on the places or people that they want to check on. It is often a very subtle thing that has caught their eye. Anybody can spot the “Tupperware party” that quickly forms when something major occurs, something that attracts everyone’s attention. But these experts see things quickly, and can address them quickly, maybe even preventing the next large gathering!

How did they learn to “See?” Their training in specific areas, such as fire prevention, machine maintenance, or behaviors, is a huge factor, as is their history and experience. But how can novice engineers or supervisors learn to “See” more quickly than relying on sufficient years to gain experience? Can we teach our people to “See?”

The short answer is “Yes.” The real question is “How?”

I have tried a number of different methods over the years, but what seems to work well is having people create their own checklist of the things they want to, or need to, “See.” This process needs to be guided so that they don’t miss important items, and it takes practice. Sometimes an actual paper list for shift start-up or shut-down is a good way to start, like a pilot’s preflight “walk around.” After they get used to this (you need to monitor their actions and checklists at first), get them to tell you what they need to be looking for all day. Meet with them again at lunch or end-of-shift to tell you what they saw, and compare that with what you observed during the same time period. If you have to, create situations that should capture their attention, to see if they notice them. I have moved boxes and bins out of their 5S designated areas, moved a crate in front of a fire extinguisher, removed my safety glasses, and walked into a non-smoking area with an unlit cigarette. I am happy to report that most of the time I was “caught,” but I was also disappointed a few times and had to create an on-the-spot lesson to get the point across.

Another good teaching tool is the creation of a value-stream map just for the trainee’s part of the business. Have the trainee tell you step-by-step what the actual current process is for their line or area. This immediately creates two tools. First, you can review the steps with them to see if anything was missed. Then, you can review the steps again and ask the trainee to tell you which steps do not add value. This teaches them to look for the Eight Wastes in every part of their shop.

Teach everyone the Eight Wastes. Give them a list of the wastes and have them write down examples of each one they observe. Train them to think of ways to eliminate or reduce the wastes. Lots of training aids exist and many are free.

In fact, get your people to read! This often-overlooked technique is extremely valuable in building those internal checklists. The more books, articles or YouTube videos they absorb, the more ideas they will have in teaching others to be Safe and Lean. Give them the books. Give them time to talk about what they have read and to tell each other – and you — why it matters.

It’s only by constant practice and reinforcement that the ability to “See” can become ingrained. Some people will get it right away. Those who don’t have to learn it from your positive example and instruction.

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