Gemba walks are an important concept in your Lean toolbox. Managers and business leaders go on Gemba (“go and see”) walks to observe firsthand how the production line is operating.
The Objective of a Gemba Walk
In businesses, managers often look to company leaders for direction. The value created by a business, though, exists out on the work floor. By taking Gemba walks, managers can get ideas for improvement from the place where value is actually created.
The objective of a Gemba walk is not to map out your facility and note every area that needs improvement all at once. It’s also not to look for errors and correct them right away. Rather, the purpose of the Gemba walk is to go out and see what’s actually happening, begin a dialogue with workers, and then return from the walk with ideas for improvement.
Your goal is also to assess your processes from start to finish, measuring the work you see to determine how successful it is. This can be done over a series of walks rather than all at once, allowing you to focus on specific parts of your value-creation process.
The Approach to a Gemba Walk
The secret to Gemba walks is the fine line between engagement and snooping. If you’re “managing by wandering around” to check up on people and make sure they are really working, you’re going to breed discontent. But if you’re genuinely interested in what people are working on, they will look forward to seeing you.
Therefore, you should approach your workers with respect and interest in what they do. You should not plan to remedy problems or correct behaviors while you’re out on the work floor. Prepare to observe, ask questions, and promote creative thinking among employees.
You should also try to approach your walk without assumptions about what you will find. This can be difficult to do, but assuming you already know what the situation is before you see it can prevent you from observing reality clearly.
Developing New Gemba Skills
Successful observation requires practice. Over time, managers who take Gemba walks learn how to look at their business’ processes in productive ways. They learn what circumstances indicate problems are present, they learn what questions to ask workers, and they learn to use their observations to implement improvements.
Beginning Gemba walk practitioners should remember that observation takes time, effort, and patience. You may not feel comfortable with the process right away, but over time you will gain confidence.
Example Gemba Walk Schedule
Examining your business’ entire value-creation process at once can be overwhelming. You’ll end up inundated with information, which can prevent you from seeing all of the details.
Consider the example Gemba walk schedule to the left. You might find visiting different parts of your process at different times or even on different days will prove most useful. You can also make it a habit to revisit each part of your process on a regular basis so you can grow accustomed to normal operations and better see variations.
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