The Continuous Improvement Blog

Gemba stories: how this supermarket chain could benefit from lean 5s

Written by Colin McArdle on 29 Jan 2018

shutterstock_521339146.jpgGemba is a fundamental lean tool.

In Japanese, Gemba means “the real place”. The principle behind it is ‘Go look see’ - visit the work area and understand what happens, free from assumptions and hearsay. And here, opportunities for process improvement will reveal themselves.

For people trained in Lean and how to conduct a Gemba Observation, it’s near impossible not to observe a situation and apply Lean tools to it.  And, as a Lean Expert, I look at processes and see an abundance of wasteful activities everywhere.

Take this recent example of a situation I witnessed outside my local supermarket.

The ‘Gemba’ observation

Picture this. A supermarket delivery area with just enough space for a large vehicle to drive in, drop off deliveries, turn around, and continue to its next stop. Now picture this space but cluttered with gas canisters and bins along one wall, and shopping trolleys and wooden pallets lining another.

This was the situation I witnessed:

A delivery driver trying, and failing, on multiple attempts, to turn around his 54ft 45 tonnes articulated lorry in this space. After the first failed attempt the driver got out of the vehicle, moved the trolleys and some of the pallets around in an effort to create more space, and got back into the vehicle to reverse again… only to get stuck once more. This carried on for 20 minutes. In the end he had to go into the office to ask for help.

The impact

This particular supermarket has over 350 stores nationwide. How many of these drivers get stuck and delayed with deliveries? How many deliveries are carried out per day? How long does each take?

Using this example, if getting the vehicle in the correct position to unload takes approximately 20 mins when it could only take 5-10, they’d have the capacity for more deliveries, or the opportunity to reduce their fleet size and running costs.

Then there’s the health and safety aspect to think about. The driver is heaving and trying to move heavy stacked pallets and pushing/kicking shopping trolleys around.

From a customer perspective, delays to deliveries means stock may not be available in store as expected. Resulting in a reduction in customer satisfaction. Not to mention the potential impact on sales revenue.

And what about from an employee perspective? The delivery driver is annoyed. He’s wasted his time. And he’s now frustrated and running late for his next delivery, which he is expected to be on time for.

So, why are trolleys, pallets and gas canisters placed in locations that are used every day for deliveries? Was someone not aware of the potential impact? Or did they not care or not follow due process? Or was there no process in place in the first place that would prevent the delivery area being clear of obstructions? Further investigation is required, but Lean has a readymade long term solution.

The solution: Lean 5s workplace organisation

With the implementation of a Lean 5s workplace organisation, the space would have been clearly marked on the floor and wall with “Keep clear At All Times”. This situation would never have arisen.

A Lean 5s workplace is well-organised and clean, and involves teams of people who use a work area, implementing the following steps: 

  • Sort - eliminate what is not needed (trolleys and pallets)
  • Set in Order - arrange necessary items so they are always placed in the right location and can be located quickly
  • Shine - look after tools, equipment and working areas so they are ready to use when you need them
  • Standardise - implement new ways of working and set standard processes (for placing the pallets and trolleys in the right place)
  • Sustain - keep to the rules, carry out 5S audits and continue to improve everyday.

If 5s was implemented in this work area, the delivery driver would have been able to drive in, drop off, turn around, and carry on with his schedule in minimal time.

So what key outcomes would we see?

  • Improved driver safety
  • Greater job satisfaction for the driver
  • Greater driver productivity for the supermarket
  • Reduced potential for damage to the vehicle

The solution is simple. But situations like this happen every day. And this insight was gained simply through observation of the workspace - the ‘Gemba’. 


The Operations directors guide to improving performance eBook

Topics: lean, gemba stories, gemba

Colin McArdle

Written by Colin McArdle

Colin McArdle, the Founder and Managing Director of Kaizen Kulture is a Lean and Six Sigma Master Black Belt who has over 30 years industry experience. Kaizen Kulture's mission is to be true to the ethos of continuous improvement.