Gemba walks are a favorite Lean management technique, but they can be used by any leader to become more connected with the people and process they manage. During a Gemba walk, the manager visits the place where work is done to observe, show respect to the employees, and potentially identify opportunities for improvement. This post will outline the agenda items for such a walk.
Let’s begin by saying that having an agenda is what sets Gemba walks apart from the technique called Management by Walking Around (MBWA). MBWA is intentionally unstructured and fluid. Gemba walks, on the other hand, have a defined purpose and a specific process to be observed. Although you might not have an exact order of events because you don’t know what you will see, you absolutely should have a list of agenda items that you want to complete before, during, and after each walk. Here’s what should be on it.
Prepare Your Staff
If Gemba walks are a new approach in your organization or if you have new employees who haven’t experienced one before, it is important to make everyone aware of what a Gemba walk entails so that they feel comfortable being open and honest during your visit. They should know that your objective is to observer processes and potentially find ways to make their jobs easier and more successful. Without this preparation, people can feel guarded or judged, which is not what you want.
Plan Your Visit
Decide when you will do your Gemba walk and which process you will observe. Before you begin, you will probably be able to write down some of the relevant questions that you will want to ask. Some organizations even prepare a set of questions that every leader will use during Gemba walks to ensure consistency.
Follow the Value Stream
When you observe the target process, try to do so from the point of view of the value stream. What resources come into the process and from where? How are they transformed? How does each activity add value to the customer? How are the results of the process measured? Are there interruptions in the flow of the stream?
Document What You See
Process changes aren’t made during a Gemba walk, only after once you’ve had the time to process what you’ve observed, so documentation needs to be high on your Gemba walk agenda. If you have improvement management software with a mobile application, you can enter your notes right into the solution. Alternatively, bring along a notepad to jot down your thoughts. Depending on the process or workspace, it might also make sense to bring a camera to capture relevant images for later review.
After a Gemba walk, your employees should feel like you have a better understanding of their work and the challenges that they face. You show respect for your team when you practice active listening, keep an open mind, avoid jumping to solutions and provide transparency into your process. Respect for workers means involving them in problem-solving, which is one of the reasons that you don’t just show up and make changes on the fly.
Reflect on Your Observations
Once the walk is over, it is time to review your notes and think about what you observed. Are there any opportunities to remove work that does not add value? Are there any workplace changes that would eliminate waste? Are there outside factors that interrupt the flow of work that needs to be addressed? If there are multiple challenges, which is the highest priority based on its impact on customer value? Who will be required to implement improvements?
Begin an Improvement Cycle
Even if you think you know exactly what needs to be changed, don’t jump right to the solution. Instead, start a DMAIC cycle to bring structure to your improvement. Doing so ensures that you get the root cause of problems rather than just applying a band-aid solution. It also helps you involve the workers in the improvement and gives them a sense of ownership and accomplishment.
Revisit the Gemba
Once any improvements are implemented, go back to the Gemba and observe the process anew to witness the changes and assess success. Of course, you’ll also be on the lookout for the next change that will get you one step closer to zero waste processes.
If you can check off all of the items on the Gemba walk agenda, chances are that you’ve had a productive experience with tangible results and high engagement from your team.