What is the gemba walk?
‘Gemba’ comes from Japanese and means ‘real place’. When you do a gemba walk you go to the place where the work is done. There are three main mindsets at play here:
- Go and see for yourself
- Ask why
- Respect the people doing the work
Why do a gemba walk?
You can use reports and interviews to get an idea about how work is being done. Unfortunately it is next to impossible to get an accurate idea about the improvement potential of your processes by doing interviews or reading reports. There are several causes for this:
- The reports are usually made with another purpose in mind
- Reality is messy and that messyness is hard to convey well in a report or interview
- People who make the reports or are being interviewed will want to help you as best they can. In order to do this they will make assumptions about what you need to know.
- Processes and systems will have been working in a certain way for a long time. This will make people feel that wasteful actions are normal and inevitable. So they will forget to report some if not most of these potential improvements.
Preparing for your gemba walk
You should have a clear purpose in doing a gemba walk. The team members you visit will need to know what a gemba walk is and what the purpose is of this particular gemba walk. So please let them know in advance. When gemba walks are normal, preparation will have a different focus but it will still be very important.
You will want to prepare on the following topics:
- How does this gemba walk help you in reaching the goals of the company or the value stream?
- Which goal is specifically served by doing this gemba walk?
- Which processes will be observed during the gemba walk?
- Which teams are part of these processes?
- Who will you take along on your gemba walk?
Your mindset during the gemba walk
Trust between management en employees is important in general, but especially in gemba walks. This is why your mindset during the walk is crucial.
You need to be transparent on the purpose of your gemba walk. Your gemba walk is focused on improving certain processes in order to reach a company goal. When you go out and see, you need to start with that purpose in mind.
Respect for your employees is central to a good gemba walk. When you see people do things that make no sense to you, do not be judgemental about the person. It is usually the case that a certain process or system requires them to do this. Try to get to the root cause of this strange behavior. Ask people what they are doing, when they have to do this and what will happen if they do not do this.
Empathize with your employees. Doing work which adds waste instead of value is never fun. Empower your employees when they have good suggestions. See if they have all the skills necessary to fix it, if they do not, provide training.
Try to understand both technical, social, process and policy side of the process.
What to look for on the gemba
You will want to look at the following things:
- Who is responsible for the value stream?
- How are orders received from the customer?
- How is planning being done?
- What business problems and opportunities exist for this process or product?
- How are employees trained for their job and their lean capabilities?
There are several ways you can use your lean view to look at the gemba. A mix of some of these can be really helpful to get the most out of the walk.
- Solution view: Lean offers a lot of tools which can help. Try not to use a tool for the sake of using the tool.
- Waste view: Look for TIMWOODS.
- Problem view: Which goals are we not achieving and why? Focus on systems, processes, costs, knowledge, delivery, quality, morale and inventory.
- Kaizen view: Look for patterns, tools and routines. How can you coach people to improve the process?
- Value View: What is working well? How can we build on this to make our good practices grow? You can use the 7 values for this view.
Do not start with asking why straight away. This can make people feel they are being second guessed. It may also lead to skipping over other important information. People usually do things because it works for them. Start with asking what people are doing, when they need to do it and what happens if they do not do this.
The value view
How to finish a gemba walk
You have walked around, observed, asked questions and had great interactions with your employees.
Share what you have learned and communicate what next steps, if any, will occur. Stay engaged in the improvement process by encouraging, empowering and challenging your employees. When changes have been implemented, make a new gemba walk to look at the situation.
The other part of finishing the gemba walk well is to look back at how the gemba walk went:
- What worked well?
- What did you do well?
- When was energy at it’s best in both you and the employees?
- What can you do better next time?
Make sure you make gemba walks a normal part of your way of managing the company.