Going to the (food truck) gemba


Roy Choi, the inventor of the Korean Taco and one of the fathers of the food truck craze, was interviewed on Fresh Air last week. He's a restaurateur, a cook, an author, and clearly a man who understands the power of "going and seeing." The interviewer, Terry Gross, asks Choi how much time he spends in food trucks -- between his book tour and the challenges of running four restaurants in addition to the food trucks, he's a pretty busy guy.

GROSS: So, how much time do you actually spend in trucks?

CHOI: I'm there every day.

GROSS: Oh, really? I just assumed that you had other people doing that.

CHOI: No, I have a crew, you know, that cooks, just like a chef has cooks in the kitchen. But the trucks are my kitchen, and so that's where I am. You know, if I'm not doing something crazy like this [interviews] or doing a book tour, I'm with my trucks, on the streets with the people. I don't know where else I would be. It's my life.

GROSS: But you have several restaurants now, too.

CHOI: Yeah. Every day, I wake up. My only goal every day when I wake up is to try to see every single person within my organizations and shake their hand and give them a hug and then check the food, and then go back through at night. . . . I have four places, four restaurants. So I'll hit all the restaurants during the day, check on prep, say hello to everybody, hit one lunch truck, hit the trucks in the morning, as well, to check on prep, and then do some office work. And then I go back out and check on the trucks again, and then I go back out to the restaurants and then enjoy the crowd and enjoy the people and see them eating. I really get a lot of energy and my information from how people are eating the food. So that's where I am.

Sometimes when the lean community talks about "going and seeing" (particularly as part of leader standard work), it comes across as a perfunctory, mechanical, activity. I think Choi's comments really get to the heart of what "go and see" is all about.

It's about showing concern for your employees -- even if you don't actually give them a hug. It's about respect for people and by seeing how they're working and making corrections or providing help, if necessary. It's about getting close to the customer, and learning by observation when you see how they interact with your product or service.

I don't know about you, but I call that leadership.

You can read the entire transcript or listen to the interview here.

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