As I started to put together some thoughts on this blog post about some potential Gemba Walk hazards, I recalled a quote by Mike Dooley, author of the New York Times bestselling, Infinite Possibilities: The Art of Living Your Dreams. He said, “Great intentions become tragic action when delivered without careful thought.”
Gemba Walks are an important part of continuous improvement initiatives in many companies. They are designed to offer leaders the opportunity to observe work, in the place where it is being done, in order to gain insight into current processes and see (or listen to) opportunities for improvement. Your Gemba Walk is unlikely to become tragic, exactly, but it can be less effective - or even counterproductive - when some of these common mistakes are made.
Mistake 1: Focusing on the people, not the process
When Gemba Walks are perceived to be performance evaluations, employees can become defensive and may even hide process flaws. Employee engagement is often damaged and an “us vs. them” attitude may take hold. Make sure to remember that the idea of a Gemba Walk is to observe processes, not to assess the performance of the individuals performing it. In most cases, defects and waste are due to poorly designed processes, undocumented standard work or ineffective training, not incompetent employees.
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Mistake 2: Changes are implemented during the walk
Changes that are implemented on the spot lack careful reflection, planning and documentation. Unintended consequences and confusion can arise. Instead, use the Gemba Walk only to understand the current state of work processes and activities. Challenge all assumptions and ask questions. After the Walk, opportunities for improvement can be carefully considered and implemented with the proper change management documentation and methodology.
Mistake 3: Poor communication about the purpose of Gemba Walks
Be open and transparent about the goal of your Gemba Walks. Be sure that people know what to expect during and after each walk and understand how they can participate in the most helpful way. You want to be sure that the walk doesn’t take on the feel of a surprise inspection. Emphasize that, ultimately, the walks will result in better working conditions for employees.
Mistake 4: Same time, same place
It is important to perform Gemba Walks that take leaders through every step in the value stream. Focusing on just the factory floor, for example, is a mistake. Walking to the places where all activities are performed is necessary for a holistic view of potential opportunities for improvement. It is also important to walk on varying days of the week and times of day. This is especially crucial if different activities happen at different intervals. The goal is to get comprehensive exposure to the current state.
Gemba Walks are a simple, yet powerful tool that when implemented correctly can uncover otherwise hidden opportunities for improvement, improve team cohesion and result in positive change. Avoiding these dangers will help yours reach their full potential.
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