The Power of Direct Observation -
the Three Gs
I am constantly reminded of the importance and power of using direct observation or what the KCOE System calls the Three Gs: Go and see, Get the facts and Grasp the situation.
As a father of four, I often shoot from the hip and make decisions without a good grasp of the situation. Let’s face it: it is a lot easier to say “no” than to deal with the effects and stress of saying “yes”. Still, if my mandate is to train my kids up in the way they should go, I often set aside my mandate for my personal gain and comfort.
At times, I find myself doing the same thing at work. I’m sure we’ve all had similar experiences. The truth is that there is no substitute for applying direct observation | the Three Gs in everything you do. To do any less, is to manage without the facts.
Illustrating the Direct Observation | Three Gs
Let me illustrate my point. A few years back, I was trying to coach a C-suite-level team of executives to stop managing by the seat of their respective departmental pants and start managing with the facts: start using direct observation | the Three Gs. They just couldn’t see the benefit in it. They were highly paid “experts” in their respective disciplines. Surely, they didn’t need to use this simple technique to improve. Or, did they?
The problem I posed to them came right from their Top Three Problems in Quality from their Balanced Scorecard. As background, the team ran a small blow molding operation. The problem I posed to them was being observed at a machine that was producing hollow plastic wheelbarrow wheels. The mold produced a set of four or six wheels. If you aren’t familiar with blow molding, let me break it down for you: a shot of molten plastic is dropped into a two part mold (left and right). Air is blown into the mold and the plastic is forced out against the walls of the void to produce the desired shape.
The problem in this case had to do with the flash (the excess material around the wheels), which has to be physically removed. An operator would take the cooled sheet of plastic with the wheels and the flash and lay it down on a table, where, after a few moments more of cooling, he would cut the wheels out and toss the flash into a regrinder. Every once in awhile – about 23% of the time – the flash would get stuck on the wheels, which would then have to be scrapped (reground).
To make a point, I locked the C-suite team in a conference room under the guise of creating a fishbone or cause and effect diagram around the point of recognition of the problem. The team spent the better part of 90 minutes debating the possible causes for the problem. They talked about the engineering properties of the raw material, the radius of curvature of the mold, the heat and subsequent cooling temperatures, the air pressure, the cooling timing, etc. I called for a consensus decision about an hour into the exercise and the debate got more heated, each person pulling for what they thought was the cause of the problem.
From Exasperation to Facts | From No Facts to Direct Observation
Finally, after three tries for consensus, I ask them to bear with me as I reminded them about direct observation | the Three Gs: Go and see, Get the facts and Grasp the situation. Angry and tired of the exercise, they trudged out to the manufacturing floor with me. I had them stand in a line (as opposed to a circle – hey, I’m a westerner!) and watch the operator as he managed the parts coming off of the machine.
I wasn’t disappointed: the problem manifested itself on the third cycle we observed. As the shot came out of the mold, it was conveyed on a hanger to the operator’s table. He stretched up to reach the hanger and lifted the shot. He took a step backwards, swinging the shot to his rear. As he swung the shot to his rear, the flash flipped up onto the wheels. He did that three times in a row.
In a matter of about fifteen minutes, the team applied direct observation| the Three Gs and was able to see the problem. The problem had nothing to do with the raw material or the engineering performance of the mold or the machine. Rather, the operator was having trouble following his standard work, which was to slide the shot onto the table as he unhooked it from the hanger.
For the best effect, let me show you a snippet from the Problem Solving sheet we filled out after we did the direct observation.
Using Direct Observation While Doing Problem Solving: The Three Gs
Note the root cause: the operator had not been rotated for three hours. He had a couple of breaks, but he stayed on the same machine for an hour more than the plan called for. Problem solving purists (like me) would say that we had just discovered the point of cause for the real problem: failure to follow the rotation protocol. Instead, I just had the team start another problem solving sheet.
The real moral of the story is this: had the team not done direct observation| the Three Gs, they would have wasted even more time pursuing causes that had nothing to do with the real problem.
What Kind of Leader are You: Do You Use Direct Observation | Three Gs or…Not?
I’ve had this experience and told this story many times and still, leaders – especially high-paid specialists – rely on what they think they know rather than on the facts.
Are you a direct observation| Three Gs kind of leader or are you relying on your expertise? Where do you stand: in the circle observing the process or in your office observing your belly button.
GO and see - GET the facts - GRASP the situation
…and while you are doing direct observation, don’t forget (teaser alert) the Three Ps…