Gemba walks are a valuable tool for anyone interested in continuous improvement and spreading a culture of improvement across the organization. Leaders visit the place where work gets done, observe, ask questions, and show respect. Following the walk, an improvement cycle might be started based on analysis of what was observed.
It’s actually pretty simple, but the simple things can be the most difficult to execute effectively.
Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your next Gemba walk.
Prioritize Which Processes You Want to Observe
Gemba walks are not like Management by Walking Around which has no clear purpose and can go off in any direction. With a Gemba walk, you select the process or workspace that you want to observe with a clear goal to identify opportunities for improvement. You can’t be everywhere, so it is important to prioritize the processes or places you want to see first. Perhaps you are aware of defects or other waste in a particular area, that should get a high priority. It is also a good idea to look for the parts in the value chain where one process or group hands work off to another, those areas are typically ripe for improvement.
Make Sure the Team Understands the Purpose of Your Gemba Walk
The cooperation of the workers you are going to visit is essential for a productive Gemba walk. It is easy for people to get uncomfortable or feel judged. When they do, they shut down. Prevent this by preparing them in advance. Let them know that this is a process or workspace focused activity, not employee performance evaluation. Explain that it is important they answer questions candidly and completely. They should know that your goal is to remove obstacles, provide resources, and help them do even better work.
Bring Along the Right Resources
You’ll definitely want a way to jot notes during your walk. A camera can also be very helpful for documenting the current state and refreshing your memory later on. In some cases, you may also want to bring another person on your walk with you. Perhaps a subject matter expert would be better able to ask key questions of your team. If the process you are going to observe has an internal client, a representative from that team might add insight as well.
Avoid the Temptation to Suggest Improvements During the Walk
If you see something that should be changed, make a note of it rather than issuing instructions on the fly. Taking time for reflection gives you the opportunity to consider potential unintended consequences of the change. It also allows for the introduction of improvement techniques like Catchball or a PDSA cycle that give your employees a valuable chance to practice improvement themselves. Of course, urgent safety issues are an exception, but most ideas for change should come after the walk.
Ask a Lot of Questions
A Gemba walk is the perfect time for you to challenge all of your assumptions about how work is being done. Many great questions begin with why, how, when, or were. Here are some other good ones:
- How do you know?
- How often?
- When do you find yourself waiting?
- What slows you down?
Pretend you’re a third grader who wonders at everything and won’t stop asking about each detail.
Quickly Enter Each Opportunity for Improvement in Your Improvement Management Software
Managers are so busy these days, you should be very proud of the fact that you recognize the importance of Gemba walks and carve out time for the practice. But don’t make the mistake of dropping the ball after the walk. It is essential to capture everything you’ve observed, record the opportunities for improvement and make assignments for next steps. Improvement management software is the ideal way to document and manage each chance to get better. (Don’t have improvement management software? We can help you with that.)
Measure the Impact of Improvement
We called this blog, “How to Enjoy a More Productive Gemba Walk.” An important question, is, “How will you know if your Gemba walks are becoming more productive?” The key to answering that question is measuring the impact of each improvement that is implemented as a result. What are the KPIs in terms of cost savings, fewer defects, faster turn around times, increased efficiency, and others that prove the business value of improvement? Once you have a mechanism in place for tracking each change over the long term, you’ll be able to demonstrate the value of your commitment to positive change.