In high-performance organizations, leaders need to be present where people (collaborators and teams) create value for other people (customers). That place, which is situated in different places in the organizational value network, is what is called Gemba.
Lean Manufacturing, as the philosophy that defines the thinking, action and learning model of high-performance organizations, defines four fundamental and inseparable concepts:
- Gemba: the place where value is created for clients.
- Build-Measure-Learn: a cycle of experimentation and continuous learning.
- Kaizen (continuous improvement), Kaikaku (revolutionary innovation) and Kakushin (disruptive innovation).
- Muda: an activity that does not add value to customers.
What is Gemba Walk?
Gemba walk is a simple but powerful method performed by managers and leaders to promote continuous optimization of processes in their businesses. During this process, managers physically go to places where employees are generating value to document issues, find areas of improvement as well as possible solutions.
It is a walk to observe and ask employees about their tasks in order to identify some problems and increase profits and productivity. The word comes from the Japanese word “Gemba” or “Gembutsu” which means “the real place” or “the place where things happen” and refers to the act of seeing what is really going on in your business.
The concept was developed by the Toyota executive, Taiichi Ohno, who thought that, to reduce the problems and bottlenecks of the operations, it was necessary to learn from all those involved in order to achieve the ability to implement consistently and efficiently the necessary changes in a company.
What Gemba Walk is not
It is very important that Gemba Walk is not confused with a performance review method. You need to make sure that your team members feel comfortable enough to collaborate with the process to get the best results possible.
Keep in mind that collaborators are the ones that are working in the field, so making sure that they are involved with the Gemba Walk process is key for the plan to succeed. Below we list some questions you could include in your questionnaire for the Gemba Walk. They are quite general, but you can adapt them to the needs of your organization.
Gemba Walk common questions
- Is there an established, documented, and standard process for accomplishing this task or activity?
- Has the 5S been implemented in this area? If so, is the standard for how the area should be kept clear? Is it visual?
- How well do those doing the work understand the standard?
- Is it visual? Is it documented?
- Are standard procedures being followed?
- Is the process being performed according to the standard?
- If the process is not being followed according to the standard, why do you think that is?
- If the process is not working to standard, are guides available for troubleshooting or quick repair procedures? Do employees use them?
- If the process exceeds the standard, why do you think it is?
- What are the current issues in this process area?
- What can we do to improve current conditions?
- How can you make abnormal conditions more visible immediately?
In essence, when taking Gemba tours, you are trying to know the following:
- What is the current problem?
- What causes the problem?
- What should be done to solve the problem?
- How will you know that the problem has been eliminated?
How is Gemba Walk relevant to sustainable businesses?
If you are looking to make your organization more sustainable in a 360º view, Gemba Walk is probably the best way to start this journey. During the process you will be able to identify which are your weakest points, and learn from them while you open your ears to your collaborators. This process will be key to design sustainability initiatives within your company.
The dynamic of this method will help you improve the relationship with your collaborators while making them part of the diagnosis and protagonists of the change to reach a sustainable business model.
After a Gemba Walk analysis, you will understand which are the weakest points in your processes which will help you rethink them. Analyzing your business processes using the Gemba Walk method will help you reach sustainability in different aspects like processes, environmental care, team engagement, relations with partners and other stakeholders.
Tips to perform a successful Gemba Walk
Gemba Walk is one of the 5 Lean Guiding Principles that entrepreneurs and businessmen should practice on a regular basis. The effectiveness of Gemba Walks is greater since the processes are more stable and there is a good visual management that makes inefficient conditions visible.
Here are the steps you need to take to make sure your next Gemba walk is successful:
Prepare the team
It is important that the team members who will participate in this experience have a good understanding of what a Gemba Walk is and how it will positively affect the organization. Talking about the walk before starting it will help everyone feel more comfortable with the process.
Make a plan
Gemba walks are not to be confused with Management by Walking Around (MBWA), a different approach in which leaders simply wander around and get involved in what employees are doing. A Gemba walk must have a defined objective, associated with a specific concern and related to a KPI. Thinking about remote workers? No worries, you can also perform a Virtual Gemba Walk using tools available for that purpose.
Ask relevant questions
Asking relevant and meaningful questions during a Gemba walk leads to an interactive session with employees that helps build a positive relationship between managers and employees.
During a Gemba walk, managers should ask various questions about the process such as Who is involved? What materials are used? What do you do daily? How do you know what to do? When is the task done? Make sure you include these questions in your Gemba Walk Checklist. You can also use a Gemba App to customize your checklists and reap different benefits!
Focus on the Gemba Walk process
A Gemba walk process is not an employee evaluation. The purpose is to observe, understand, and improve processes. It may be helpful to prepare employees by letting them know what they will be asked. There are no correct answers, what you need are honest and complete answers.
Because a lot happens during a Gemba walk and you will want to remember it all later, it is important to carry tools to record your observations. By writing down your observations and taking photographs, you are more likely to become more involved and focus on observation and reflection. Using an app like Gemba App will help you take notes and pictures on the go.
One of the hardest things to do on a Gemba walk is let go of the assumptions. Don’t assume that everything is being done to the standard. It is best to ask employees why they do things the way they do. These 5 questions are great for getting the information you need:
- What: What are the inputs and outputs of the process?
- Who: Who are the people involved in the processes? Who provides information for the processes? Who are the “customers” of the process?
- Where: Where is the work done? Are all the necessary materials and equipment available in the workplace?
- When: Are all process inputs and information available when needed? Are waiting times long or short?
- Why: What value does this process bring to the customer?
Try to learn
Managers and leaders must show proper attitude when doing Gemba walks. Remember that it is about evaluating the process and not the worker, therefore, you should avoid giving suggestions and be very attentive to all actions to learn new things from the workers. However, you can provide positive feedback on a job well done.
Don’t suggest changes during the process
A Gemba hike is a great opportunity for observation, not action. It can be very tempting to propose changes, new solutions, or make improvements on the fly, but changes should only be made after a period of analysis.
Involve people from different areas
It may be a good idea to invite a colleague from other departments and team members with very different daily tasks. People who are less familiar with the processes will bring a new point of view and ask different questions that others may not have asked. These different sets of questions will allow you to analyze the processes from different angles.
Follow-up with the employees involved
Sometimes the results of a Gemba walk will be immediately obvious, but even if there is no immediate action as a result of a particular walk, it is important to follow up with employees to share insights and communicate what the next steps are.
Before taking any action based on the observations of the Gemba walk, you should organize your thoughts and correctly analyze the situation. You can even invite some of the workers you’ve been working with.
If you have a meeting after each Gemba walk, it should include some participants from different departments, to have as many points of view as possible and thus have the ability to make the best decisions; a decision that really improves the business processes of your company. It is essential to tour the factory or sales center and gather detailed information on what needs to be improved.
Gemba Walk is an excellent way to bring your business closer to sustainability. Current times demand that companies adapt the way they are working. If you are thinking about implementing Gemba Walk in your organization, you should check out the Gemba Walk App, which will help you define, execute, analyze and take further actions, in a very simple and complete way.