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We often hear people say, “Keep things simple” and mostly, coming from management. In fact, one often hears management fret that life would be so much simpler, if it was possible to get live snapshot of what was happening in the different functions of the company, at any given point of time. And not to miss, all of this, right on their computer screens, just a few click away. And this aspiration just keeps trickling downward to the extent that each one starts relying on the systems for their day to day work and for inter-departmental interactions.

A lot of us genuinely believe that the “systems” will make life easy and work places transparent. Fancy ERP systems, software and even fancier upgrades; seem to become the possible solution to achieving the desired simplicity.

We therefore, begin with first investing in a system that can capture near real time data on all that is happening in different functions, like production, purchase, marketing, finance, HR etc. We refer to all these work centers commonly as ‘Gemba’ as the Japanese would refer to these - the place of actual work. This data then needs to be processed in the form of reports, that make sense to us and can be analyzed using various statistical tools when required, then an MIS is created out of many such reports, which is then reviewed with the respective functions at set frequencies like monthly, quarterly and so on. These reviews become management’s tool to pin down the shortcomings and initiate improvement actions. In fact, the systems are so well integrated and connected that the different departments, which could anyways never see each other in the eye, now need not even interact with each other. All the relevant data requiring their action will be available to them in their reports. For example, purchase can look at the inventory and stock situation and place the orders. Similarly, planning can look up the system for order situations & current WIP and accordingly freeze the upcoming plan and so on.

Sounds perfect and it’s a 2+2 = 4 kind of simple arithmetic! But in reality, does it really??? If yes, then it’s a good thing and life is settled. But if despite all this, we have glitches in the day to day working, reporting etc. We still have stock out situations or situations like there is material available in the system, but not usable or retrievable or lack of inter-departmental coordination despite robust planning leading to delays in fulfilling orders and so on. That’s because, as my mentor Dr. Gondhalekar, would put it, life is not as simple as a linear equation and businesses and shop floors sure qualify for this statement. We are well aware, how dynamic things are and require real time responses and actions, and actions that are much faster than issues getting documented, captured in the system, analyzed and then re-solved.

Not to disregard the importance of documenting, capturing and analyzing. These have their own relevance especially in generating slightly longer term process improvement solutions. I would compare it with conducting an autopsy that helps as a very good starting point to set up processes. However, the rapid quick actions for resolving to day-to-day issues are possible only through first and foremost constant communication with the gemba. And that calls for the management team to re-orient themselves and learn the gemba language, rather than encoding it into the ERPs and then decoding it onto their systems and relying completely on them.

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