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Serendipity in the Gemba

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One of the most frequently asked questions about customer gemba visits is what questions to prepare in advance.

The new ISO 16355 for QFD explains the process in Part 2 (ISO/DIS 16355-2). Modern QFD offers specific tools for this and they include the customer process model and gemba visit table. This critical part of QFD is taught in detail in the QFD Green Belt® and QFD Black Belt® courses.

Gemba preparations depend greatly on the type of QFD project. Is it an improvement, a refresh, an upgrade, a new technology, a next generation, or totally new to the world? Improvement projects lend themselves to the most detailed preparations; new-to-world, the most open-minded.

Preparing questions is good as a back-up plan in case the gemba visit does not go well (key person unavailable, process not running, etc.) or to be saved for the end of the gemba visit. That is because most prepared questions are about the product, not the customer. In other words, the value of the gemba visit is to learn about the customer's concerns with improving their life (business-to consumer) or work (business-to-business).

Gemba visits should encourage the customer to speak openly about what frustrates them (unfixed problems in their life or work, unrealized opportunities, image), not complain about your product. They are too precious and expensive to walk away with nothing but product complaints, which are better left for technical visits, surveys, and social media whose focus is on what you know you don't know. A better use of these precious gemba visits is to discover what you don't know you don't know.

A January 2, 2016 article in The New York Times by Pagan Kennedy "How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity" calls this wonderfully, "the art of finding what we're not seeking." (illustration of the Persian poem; Source: wikipeida {PD-US})

First, the article explains the history of the word 'Serendipity' to a Persian fairy tale about three princes from the Isle of Serendip who have super powers of observation -- a skill, not just dumb luck. Next the article describes three types of observers researched by University of Missouri information scientist, Sanda Erdelez who grew up in Croatia:

  1. Non-encounterers who stick to a preferred list;
  2. Occasional encounterers who have moments of serendipity;
  3. Super-encounterers who have happy surprises wherever they look.

The article describes some attributes of a super-encounterer:

(quote)

Readers familiar with the modern QFD tools may recognize some of these attributes, such as:

  1. Gemba visits should be conducted by at least a 2-person team, one from marketing and one from engineering.
  2. Focus the gemba visit on the customer's process, not your product. (modern QFD tool for this is Customer Process Model)
  3. Ask customers to allow you to observe their failures and to let you make a video. Review with colleagues from other disciplines such as manufacturing, information systems, etc. (modern QFD tool: Gemba Visit Table)
  4. Document off-spec uses and work-arounds. (modern QFD tool: Customer Context Table)
  5. Discuss their true needs, independent of today's solutions. (modern QFD tool: Customer Voice Table)

These tables and tools are taught in the QFD Green Belt® and QFD Black Belt® courses. Master them and you too can become a "serendipiter."

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