One of my projects started the way projects often start: the manager in charge described to us in detail how the process works in production and explained where he thought the problems were. I then suggested to him that we follow the workflow in detail during a Gemba-Walk. He considered such a Gemba-Walk to be superfluous.
However, a common issue is that managers are often removed from the actual scene and may have little awareness of the needs of employees and the processes on the ground. This lack of connection can have a negative impact on employee motivation as well as lead to incorrect process design or ineffective improvement measures.
Now what is a Gemba-Walk?
A Gemba-Walk is a workplace walkthrough that aims to understand the process flow and the activities of the employees. The word Gemba comes from Japanese and means "the actual place" and thus refers to the place where all the work takes place. The concept originates from Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota's Lean Manufacturing system. The idea is to observe the flow of processes, talk to employees about their experiences and suggestions, and identify areas for improvement – the overarching aim being continuous improvement.
How to do a Gemba-Walk?
🚶🏽 Announcement: Prior to the Gemba-Walk, all staff members should be informed about what exactly the Gemba-Walk entails and for what purpose it is being run. The candid feedback from employees is very important for success, so it must be clearly communicated from the beginning that it is about the process (and not about checking up on people).
🚶🏽 Preparation: The objectives should be defined and questions prepared before the start of the Gemba-Walk. In case someone is not yet familiar with the company, it is advisable to take a look at existing layout plans and process documentation before the walk. Ideally, the team should also include people who are not yet familiar with the existing process, to enable them to scrutinize the process from a different perspective.
🚶🏽 Execution: A gemba walk is usually conducted along the value stream. The aim is to observe the processes and to ask questions in order to understand the procedures well ( objective capture of the system steps). Very important for the subsequent analysis is thorough documentation. Therefore, you should definitely take your clipboard for notes and possibly a camera with you. Under no circumstances should you intervene in the running processes on site - only observe, listen, understand, verify.
🚶🏽 Documentation/follow-up: Observations gathered should subsequently be documented in a flow chart including critical points identified and any photos taken. Sometimes improvement actions are more obvious and sometimes you need to further brainstorm in a team how to improve the process. For the successful implementation of process improvements, it is important to involve the employees in the development of the improvement measures.
I don't want to hide from you that during the Gemba-Walk I mentioned, we discovered that the process was quite different from what the manager had described. In addition, we received a lot of constructive feedback from the employees about where the process made their work more difficult and where there was potential for improvement. The process flow that was subsequently developed together with the employees was implemented by them with great speed and commitment and subsequently led to significant increases in quality.
Overall, I find the Gemba Walk to be the tool of choice to really understand a process well and, most importantly, to actively engage employees in the process of continuous improvement.