Indiana Dunes and Going to the Gemba

Indiana Dunes © Julie Paulsen
All Rights Reserved

It’s a partly cloudy but pleasant day as my wife and I along with our youngest son get into the car for a day trip.  The temperature is warmer than normal for early March and we are looking forward to some outdoor activities.  We drive a little out-of-the-way to try a road side taco stand with great reviews.  It is just warm enough to eat our lunch on their patio comfortably.  They seemed to get every order wrong, including ours, but everyone left happy because their quesadillas, tacos, tortillas chips and guacamole are so good.

We are back on the road after enjoying a great lunch.  Our destination, Indiana Dunes invokes childhood memories since we camped there a few times many years ago.  I couldn’t help but to recall climbing the dunes and going to the beach.  I also remember someone telling me that Indiana Dunes has become a National Lakefront a few years ago.  Yea, yea, yea, been there and saw it.  I remember hearing that the dunes are moving inland due to the heavy winds coming off Lake Michigan.  Yea, yea, yea, so a little sand is moving around……

Indiana Dunes © Julie Paulsen
All Rights Reserved

We pull into a nearly empty parking lot at Mount Baldy.  At 1300 feet, it is the highest of the dunes on Lake Michigan.  I am shocked when I get out of the car and see that the dunes are engulfing full-grown trees.  I had a hard time believing how much the dunes had moved since the last time I was there and would not have believed the impact without seeing it with my own eyes.

What does this have to do with Lean Leadership?  It illustrates a lesson that Lean Leaders need to learn.  You need to see a problem to fully understand it.  Even if you understand some of the symptoms of an issue, you are likely to underestimate the magnitude and impact from your office, cubicle, or conference room.  Those of you who have worked in manufacturing plants or have been involved with other critical processes have probably seen this for yourself.  Someone tells you about a problem.  You think you understand and hope they can work through the situation since you are too busy to go see it for yourself.  Then you are surprised when you finally see it with your own eyes or see the results in your numbers:

“I knew we had a problem but I didn’t know it was this bad!”

Just as I needed to see those trees at Indiana Dunes getting engulfed by the sand, leaders need to see the problem for themselves.  The Japanese term for this is “go to the gemba”  which translates to “the real place.”  Can you think of a time when you underestimated or mis-diagnosed a problem because you did not see it with your own eyes?  Can you think of a time when you came to a better resolution after seeing it for yourself?  Please share your experiences with other readers below.

Remember, Lean Leaders “go to the Gemba.”

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Here is a related post from another Lean Thinker:  Gemba with a Purpose

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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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2 Responses to Indiana Dunes and Going to the Gemba

  1. Stephen G says:

    Nice article. I wish I could teach our local Mayor about being “lean”. It seems each year she is raising taxes in our town! 🙂

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