I handed out sheets of lined paper and asked the six sigma team to follow me to the floor. We went to the first station (which was an injection molding process) and asked them to stand and watch the operation for 30 minutes and write down anything they thought could be improved. We did this for an entire afternoon on several key processes, and by the end of the day we sat down to compare notes. As simple as this activity sounded, by the looks of “I can’t believe we never thought of that” on their faces I knew that I had given them a breakthrough tool. They found simple yet breakthrough fixes to problems they were having trouble identifying just because they weren’t observing.
I credit one of my mentors, Ken Martin, for introducing me to this basic, but useful tool when he stressed the importance of observing. In my later years I learned that a famous Toyota mentor and executive, Taiichi Ohno, used to draw a circle on the ground and tell people to stand in it and observe a process for hours.