A review copy of Jim Womack’s Gemba Walks, published by the Lean Enterprise Institute, came in the mail today, and I’m beginning to make my way through it. When I saw the title, I immediately thought of a scene in The Goal, Eliyahu Goldratt’s business novel on the theory of constraints. In it the plant manager walks the floor and spots a few workers sitting by the loading dock, doing nothing--on the clock. Once the workers see their boss, they immediately return to their workstations and start churning out parts.
By the middle of the book we learn just how wasteful churning out parts really is. The plant has piles of parts and a warehouse chockfull of finished goods. Some finished products sit so long that they become obsolete before the company has a chance to sell them.
So what’s more wasteful: idle, on-the-clock workers, or those idle parts in the warehouse?