Gemba Walks are an important part of many continuous improvement initiatives. They are designed to offer leaders the opportunity to observe work and talk with employees in the place where the work is being done, and it provides insight into current processes and opportunities for improvement.
Although some companies are still primarily remote right now, it's important that you continue to utilize this valuable improvement tool. There are ways to adapt the Gemba walking technique to support a virtual environment. For example, incorporate video conferencing to replace the typical face-to-face interaction. When your team sees you on video, they know that they have your undivided attention. You can find additional tips on how and why to walk the Gemba when everyone is working form home here.
Whether your Gemba Walks are virtual or in person, there are a few best practices to follow and a few pitfalls to avoid.
Gemba Walk Do’s
DO Focus on the process:
The purpose of the Gemba Walk is to observe processes, not to evaluate the people preforming the process.
DO Observe and learn:
It is useful to adopt the mindset of a student during a Gemba Walk. Keep an open mind and ask lots of open-ended questions. The leader is there to learn, not to judge or to give unwarranted advice.
DO Mix it up:
You want to perform Gemba Walks at different times of day and different days of the week to get a complete picture of the state of the value stream.
DO Test assumptions:
During and after the Gemba Walk, validate any assumptions with the people who are performing the process. Don’t make any guesses about what they are doing or why.
DO Walk with a cross-functional team:
It can be very enlightening for people to see processes and work activities in which they aren't normally involved. A diverse team can offer a greater array of new ideas.
Gemba Walk Don’ts
DON'T Adjust the process or correct employees during the walk:
The purpose of the walk is to understand the current state. Improvement happens later, following analysis and reflection.
DON'T Confuse Gemba with MBWA (Management by Walking Around):
Management by Walking Around is an approach that encourages management participation in the work affairs of employees. Gemba, on the other hand, is about observation and deliberation. MBWA has often devolved into walking around, saying hello, and slapping people on the back. That's not very helpful.
DON'T Rely on the manual:
A Gemba Walk is the time to observe what is actually happening, not what has been documented as the policy or standard work. The result of the Gemba Walk may very well be changes to documented procedures.
DON'T Forget to communicate:
It is important that all employees understand the purpose of the Gemba Walk and that the ultimate goal is to improve conditions, processes, and instructions for employees. The Gemba Walk should always be seen as positive, not punitive.
With a thoughtful approach, Gemba Walks can improve communication and collaboration and ultimately result in positive change for the organization. This simple concept, when well executed, is an effective tool for any organization focused on continuous improvement.