When we chat with leaders about how they are using various continuous improvement tools and techniques, Gemba Walks are often a hot topic. Interestingly, we find that people either view them as very effective and a great way to connect with the team and find opportunities for improvement, or they see them as a big waste of time.
What sets the two camps apart?
We find that leaders who get the most out of their visits to the Gemba have a few things in common. They generally follow each of these best practices. By adopting them, many leaders who didn’t get a lot out of their Gemba walks are able to make them much more useful.
1. Schedule Time for Visiting the Gemba
The first step to an effective Gemba walk is GOING on the Gemba walk. Folks who really benefit from doing Gemba walks have learned that it needs to be moved from the “To Do” list to the calendar. By scheduling time, you help ensure that it will actually happen. Because let’s face it, if it is just another thing on a long list of things to do, it will likely get pushed back when other issues demand attention.
2. Have a Specific Plan or Topic for Your Gemba Walk
You never know what you will see at the Gemba, so you should have an open mind, but it is also useful to have a specific plan for each walk. Perhaps your focus might be on the waste of motion or on 5S on a given day. Choosing something to be on the lookout in advance helps keep your Gemba walk from becoming more of a casual stroll.
3. Communicate Your Intentions in Advance
Gemba walks should never feel to employees like a surprise inspection. They are to be collaborative, never punitive. Before you begin doing Gemba walks be sure to give everyone who will be observed the background into the approach. Explain that you will be asking questions and looking for ways to improve the process. Ask them to complete each task as they normally would and try to avoid the “observer effect,” in which your presence changes employee behavior.
4. Avoid Distractions
Keep your attention focused on your purpose and avoid getting sidetracked by unrelated people or activities. You might want to bring your phone for the purpose of keeping notes or taking photos, but it is a good idea to keep it on silent and turn off notifications so that you get the most out of your time at the Gemba.
5. Brush Up on the 8 Wastes Before You Go
Whether you are a seasoned Lean practitioner or someone who is new to the idea of formal continuous improvement, it is a good idea to look over the 8 wastes before you begin your walk. That will help make sure that your mind is looking for every opportunity to improve the value stream. Be sure to consider the wastes of:
- Over processing
- Over production
- Human potential
6. Take Your Time
It can take a while to get a full picture of what is happening at the Gemba, so don’t rush. If a process is repeated frequently, allow time to see several cycles. Avoid jumping to conclusions. You may be surprised how something plays out if you wait long enough to see it.
7. Ask Lots of Questions and Solicit Feedback
A Gemba walk is a good time to pull out the old “When?, Where?, Why?, What?, Who?, and How?” These questions can help you get to the heart of each potential opportunity for improvement and bring a better understanding of how Standard Work is or isn’t being applied. It is also smart to ask the employees being observed for suggestions. They may very well know exactly how to improve a process, but not feel empowered to act. That’s something that you ought to know.
8. After the Walk, Share Your Observations with the Team
Whether you plan to make changes as a result of your walk or not, be sure to provide feedback and follow up with employees. They will likely be very curious about what you observed and took away from the experience. Following up with your comments will make your next visit even more effective.
9. Avoid Making Process Changes on the Fly
It can be tempting to jump in and make changes to processes while you are in the middle of the walk, but this is generally not a good idea. (Urgent safety concerns are an exception.) It is far better to take the time to digest what you have seen and reflect on possible solutions before taking actions.
10. Make a Plan
Once you’ve thought about your observations, make a plan for action. If no changes are to be made, then your plan may simply be to schedule your next walk. If opportunities for improvement were identified, decide how improvements will be made. You may kick off a PDSA or a DMAIC cycle, or perhaps a rapid improvement event is in order.
These common habits of effective Gemba walkers can make your next walk more useful. We’re sure there are more great ideas. If you have a tip that has helped improve your experience at the Gemba, please add it to the comments, we’re all ears!