Gemba Walks are an important way that managers can identify opportunities for improvement and accelerate positive change within the organization. (Here is an introduction to the concept if it is new to you.) We’ve offered a few tips and tricks before, but, for now, let’s focus on what not to do.
Here are a few mistakes that might counteract your good intentions and take your walk to a place you don’t want to go.
Mistake #1: Fail to communicate the purpose of the walk
If your employees aren’t used to the idea of Gemba walks, showing up for one without background can make people feel nervous or resentful. Before you begin the practice, explain that the purpose is to observe so you can help, not to punish or judge.
Mistake #2: Focus on processes, not people
Speaking of not judging, a Gemba walk is not an employee evaluation. Rather, it is a method of ensuring that the processes, tools, and environment are in place to make sure that employees can do their best work.
Mistake #3: Make changes during the walk
The middle of a Gemba walk is not the right time to make changes to processes or workspaces. That is done only after careful thought and an improvement cycle, such as PDSA. Unless an immediate hazard is observed, wait to make changes until you are confident that the root causes of problems have been identified and that the best possible solution is selected.
Mistake #4: Forget to document the experience
Because you will not be making any changes during the walk itself, it is important that you keep careful note of your observations so that you can reflect on them afterward. In some settings, pictures can be enormously helpful as well. Continuous improvement software helps capture opportunities for improvement in real time - learn more here.
Mistake #5: Make assumptions
It is a bad idea to make assumptions about why people are doing things the way they are during your Gemba walk. The idea is to ask questions, get feedback, and let people explain the way they work. You may find that they are deviating from the Standard work because conditions are incompatible with what is expected, or because they are missing supplies or tools.
Mistake #6: Follow a pattern
Do the workers and the work vary at different times of day, days of the week, or seasons of the year? If so, you’ll want to take your walks at various times so that you can get a broad picture of what is going on. Perhaps things run smoothly in the morning, only to get bogged down by afternoon, or maybe a process works well when volume is low, but falls apart when it is high. In order to identify the opportunities for improvement, you’ll want to see it all.
Gemba walks are popular with Lean leaders because they put managers where the action is and provide insight that can’t be gained in written reports or spreadsheets. So we encourage you to go for it, but keep these common mistakes in mind and watch your step.