Most leaders dedicated to continuous improvement focus on performance indicators that can be measured and rightly so. We look at cost, production speed, error rates, customer satisfaction scores, and other quantifiable business metrics to identify opportunities for improvement and to assess the impact of any changes that we implement. However, there are some things that can’t be measured – process problems or improvement opportunities that you have to see with your own eyes to understand. For those, there are Gemba Walks.
Gemba means “the real place” in Japanese. During a Gemba walk, the leader goes to the place where work is performed to gain first-hand insight into the target process. Unlike the practice of Management By Walking Around, Gemba walks are structured and performed with intention.
Fundamentals of a Gemba Walk
Gemba walks are a powerful element of continuous improvement because they put leaders right where the action is. You get to see up close whether everyone is clear on the standard work process and if it is being consistently applied. You also get the chance to whiteness how employees approach problem-solving and how well they collaborate. A Gemba walks has three fundamental elements:
Go see: The first rule of Gemba is to go to the place where work is done. This might be a factory floor, an emergency room, a warehouse, a construction site, an office, or any other physical place where work processes are performed. Being present helps you determine if processes are resulting in the intended purpose. You can also gauge the engagement level of your team and determine if the right resources are available when and where they are needed.
Ask why: A Gemba walk is the perfect time to get to the root causes of process failure. Rather than suggesting solutions, leaders use tools like the 5 Whys to make sure that the real problem is uncovered.
Show respect: Gemba walks aren’t the time for assessing the performance of individuals, rather they are about partnering with employees to understand how processes could be improved. Good leaders encourage team members to be involved in problem identification and solving.
Gemba Walk Objectives
Each Gemba walk should have a target process or processes to be observed. It is also common for a Gemba walk to have a theme that is related to a particular improvement initiative. They may also be part of a Kaizen event. Here are some example themes:
- Customer Service
- Workspace efficiency
Whether or not you choose one of these themes, you still want to identify your goals and be clear about what you are looking for during each walk.
Gemba Walk Checklist Question Examples
While many of your questions will come up ad hoc during your walk, it is a good idea to prepare some in advance so you’ll have a good place to start. Think about the eight wastes of Lean and the 5S workspace management technique as you put them together.
We put together a few examples and grouped them into four areas; process analysis, problem-solving, resource needs, and innovation. Your questions will vary according to your business and the target process, but these are some good food for thought.
- Is the Standard Work for this process clear, complete, and available for review?
- What measures are in place to ensure that the Standard is achieved?
- What is the objective of this process?
- What suggestions do you have for improving the process?
- What are the preceding and following process?
- Is there a smooth transition from one process to the next?
- How are new employees trained on the Standard Work?
- How do we recognize when an error or defect has occurred?
- What is the approach to corrective action?
- What types of problems are most common?
- Why do they occur?
- How is the root cause identified?
- Who makes decisions related to errors and defects?
- How are problems documented?
- Are all Kanban boards, control charts, and process maps up to date?
- Do you have all of the resources you need for this process?
- Is inventory available where and when you need it?
- Do you have tools for capturing opportunities for improvement?
- If you were to create a new Standard, where would you start?
- What are the most important priorities for this team?
- What didn’t we talk about that should be discussed?
Armed with this checklist, your Gemba walk should be a revealing and helpful use of your valuable time. In addition to helping you identify process problems and opportunities for improvement, it should also improve your relationship with team members who will appreciate your attention and respect.