A gemba walk is about visiting the real places where a business generates value. In practice, it is spending time observing processes in action and asking workers about the work they do. The collected information will serve as the basis for the initiatives to improve processes. While the approach is developed in a manufacturing context, it actually applies to any kind of process.
Elements of a Gemba Walk
As the Gemba Walk takes you to the real action, it is a significant part of continuous improvement activities that include audit management and short-duration improvement projects. Leading such a walk makes quality a responsibility of everybody in the company. You will be able to see whether employees understand and follow standard work processes and determine the way they solve issues that could arise. There are elements that the walk should focus on:
- Getting to the work floor. This is where you can see if the process design supports the intended purpose.
- Asking questions. You have to take the time to explore the root cause of any process failure by asking questions. Define the issue, reveal waste and leverage techniques for analyzing patterns, tools, forms, and routines.
- Showing respect. You conduct a gemba walk not to point fingers and blame anyone. You have to respect your employees on the plant floor in order to establish the trust which leads them to share the pieces of information you need.
Goals and Themes
Your Gemba walk checklist will depend on your goals and objectives. Sometimes, you might conduct an unstructured walk. Other situations that can benefit from the walk include safety, productivity, cost, customer service, innovation, and learning. Regardless of your theme, you must define clearly the walk’s goal to better gauge your progress and barriers to achieving such a goal. Your goals can include:
- Finding ways to save time.
- Improving workplace safety.
- Reducing costs.
- Addressing quality issues.
- Improving customer service and experience.
Always Focus on the Process
Keep in mind that a gemba walk is not about criticizing your employees or their work. Also, you are not collecting data to be used for evaluating their performance. Intimidating your employees can leave you losing their engagement and ability to open up to you when questioned. Even if some employees give answers to your questions you did not want to hear, the walk is not about passing judgment on these people, how they perceive their attitude and their opinions. Always concentrate on the processes.