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NEWS | March 2, 2023

NSS-SY Spotlight: Genbas – a learning tool

By Aime Lykins, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

At 131 years old, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility has seen its share of change. Over the years, tunnels have been built, roads paved, buildings moved and dry docks transformed.

As the shipyard enters a new era of innovation and infrastructure, it is people who remain the backbone of operations. While structural upgrades are easily recognizable, the behind-the-scenes process improvement efforts may not be as visible. Organizational change requires time and patience to create something successful and long-lasting. A shipyard that learns together thrives as a unit. Key dimensions of successful organizational change are endless learning, forward-thinking leadership, participative policy making and employee empowerment.

PSNS & IMF leadership is leveraging the support and expertise of the Naval Sustainment System-Shipyards team and Code 100PI, Process Improvement and Change Management, to help facilitate lasting change by using Lean principles and tools, such as genbas, throughout the shipyard. The shipyard’s Department Head Group and their leadership teams are starting to use the genba process to enhance their engagement with the workforce across the command.

Genbas are a useful tool for learning and seeing waste in an organizational system. To “genba” means ‘to go to the actual place’ and see job processes, work conditions and get the facts. A genba is not intended to be a surveillance or audit but rather it’s a method to learn and understand current state. When done correctly, it gives a different view of waste, problems, opportunities, processes and systems. A different view can lead to new insights, better analysis, changed behaviors and systemic solutions.

Chris Klinkert, Code 700, Lifting and Handling, department head shared her experience using genbas.

“I spent a lot of my career in quality assurance, so I’m very familiar with conducting surveillances looking for compliance to specifications,” said Klinkert. “I am learning that performing a genba is a more powerful tool if your goal is to implement change and improvements on a larger scale. Another benefit of genba is interacting with my employees, it’s really important to me that I hear directly from them what their challenges are.”

Conducting genbas assists in the evaluation of how shipyard processes enable or disable employees’ ability to perform their tasks, ultimately affecting product flow. Additionally, genbas allow PSNS & IMF leadership to target the most valuable change needed to help meet the mission.

“If we are not careful, our natural tendencies can cause us to overreact to symptoms post-genba,” said Lonnie Webster, NSS-SY representative. “This is where patience and collaboration pay off. The system behind the symptom, which was seen, is likely causing someone downstream to be coping with an issue they should be elevating for assistance.”

Anything causing delays in the processes supporting product delivery are considered waste. This occurs at four levels:

Operational – tasks performed on the deckplates, or at shop benches, desks, and computers.

Transactional – hand-offs from person to person, requiring support to complete a task.

Structural – shop, code and project dependence on outside organizations to complete tasks.

Systemic – shops, codes and projects acting independently, unaware of downstream affects.

The genba is meant to witness seemingly invisible tasks and their connections from one step to another as part of a larger system.

“Many times we accept the way things are, including the waste in the system without even recognizing it,” said Webster. “The trick is to develop a different perspective and train your mind to understand that everything we see or hear at the genba, is most likely a symptom of a more complex issue. We are likely either creators of waste through the process we operate or on the receiving end of other processes creating waste. It’s vitally important for all of us to take the opportunities to view our processes as far up and down the chain as needed to truly identify what is necessary for the most efficient product flow.”

The call to action for all employees is to challenge the current state, be on the lookout for the different forms of waste and communicate findings to managers. Genbas conducted by leaders are happening throughout the shipyard and each voice counts in making the shipyard a more efficient organization.