Get Out There and Learn!

Genchi Genbutsu
Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video via / CC BY

Years ago, when I was an MBA candidate at the University of Illinois, we were introduced to the MBWA (Management By Walking Around) principle. In Japan, the principle is known as “Genchi Genbutsu.” Toyota, in particular, is known for this “actual place, actual thing” philosophy. Ultimately, in all aspects of engineering — from operational efficiency to process development to system dynamics — this “go and see for yourself” approach is worthy of discussion. No matter how good the information may seem to be, firsthand knowledge is fundamental.

My experience is as a technology supplier, but this action-oriented principle equally applies to the production and processes of our clients. For example, we have a pharmaceutical client that moved from batch processing to continuous processing with BHS technology. The process engineer may be satisfied that the client’s goals and objectives were achieved. However, we insist the next step is to “go see ourselves” and observe the operation. What are the machine efficiencies? Is the design easy to operate and maintain? What is the operator mindset?

In another case, involving a commercial scale-up of a new chemical process, we must know the catalyst; how the scale-up is planned…step-by-step or full in; sequential or parallel technologies…vacuum or pressure; options and costs; and finally value-engineering. The best way for BHS to meet the scale-up needs is to follow the approach of “seeing for ourselves.”

Always be Learning

In looking to always be learning how to best serve customer needs, we also incorporate Jay Forrester’s system dynamics. This technique of feedback and impacts considers questions such as: How does the competition react? What are the consequences — intended or unintended?

Although system dynamics had its beginnings in the physical realm, this method of thinking has moved to areas such as leadership, operational structure, interactions of variables and making decisions for how things are changing for the future. This is easily applied to chemical engineering where “gifted all-arounders” are preferred in a world of increasing complexity.

This idea of exploring a system fully, aiming to truly understand the actual thing functioning in the actual place can greatly impact learning. It poses interesting questions too: How would a car company make pills? How would a chemical company make water bottles? How does a CEO of an airplane company succeed in begin a CEO of a car company? And so on.

Learning in one field can become applicable to others. This blog invites readers and followers to share experiences and improve engineering and innovation processes. Let’s keep this conversation going.