4 Steps to Realizing Gemba Success
1. Know the Purpose
Before you head out on your gemba walk, you need to plan. Tackling an entire value creation process at once is overwhelming and often results in vague observations that aren’t very useful. To create a plan, you first need to understand your purpose on both a large and small scale. In the most general sense, what is the purpose of your business? Presumably, your purpose is to help your customer solve a problem in some way. The product you provide solves that problem. Make sure you always keep that purpose in mind. For example, during your walk you might ask yourself how a particular step in a process adds value for a customer. More specifically, you need to have a purpose for your gemba walk, and it’s often useful to have a purpose more specific than “assess the state of my company’s processes.” Decide what aspect of your operations you want to look at during a given walk and keep in mind what you want to learn. Maybe you want to look at how safe a process is or whether any extra motion exists during a task. Understand that you can’t cover everything at once. Do stay open-minded during your walk, though, to whatever you see. Additionally, remember that an important aspect of any gemba walk is creating a dialogue with people and encouraging them to think creatively about work tasks and roadblocks.
2. Know the Gemba
To observe and assess anything, you need to understand it. So before you head out on your gemba walk, you need to have knowledge of the processes and people in your facility. Consider what the core activities of your business are and where they’re located. You might want to take visits to your manufacturing floor, the place where products are developed, the shipping department, the people in charge of managing suppliers, or even your customer service team. You shouldn’t try to visit all of those locations at once, but they’re likely all important to the products you create. Determine which ones you plan to visit during a walk. Consider making a schedule for gemba walks if that helps you. Each organization has different places where value is created, so your business may have many more gembas that you should visit. Whatever the location, know what standard procedures are so when you observe them you can consider how well they are working and whether they should be adjusted. Remember, though, that you should think of your workplace as a team. Calling something “your” gemba can limit your thinking and restrict teamwork.
Once you understand the goals and activities that go on in your workplace, it’s time to put your new knowledge of gemba into practice and observe. Remember to approach your work without bias and be open-minded. Your attitude will have a large impact on the success of your walk. During your walk, focus on aspects of your process that are currently of interest. You might examine efficiency, safety, or housekeeping. You might even take a look at your waste pile as a way to see what kinds of defects exist. As you walk, think about the purpose, the people, and the process. These three ideas are all connected. The purpose of solving a customer’s problem is achieved by people and the process. When you see a problem, you can ask how and why something is done, but don’t blame or try to correct employees. While at the gemba, focus on taking in information and fostering a discussion.
Questions to Consider During a Gemba Walk
Each gemba walk will be different, but these general questions can help you focus on your purpose, people, and process:
- What is working well?
- Is protocol being followed?
- Which activities add value?
- What stations or individuals create value?
- Are expected levels of output being met?
- Are there variations in the process?
- Are there abnormalities in products?
- Is cleanliness a problem?
- Is machinery in good working order?
- Do workers need training or support?
- Is any documentation needed?
- Are tasks done safely?
- Is there any wasted time or resources?
Questions to Ask Workers
First and foremost, you want to observe workers. It’s usually better if they don’t know a gemba walk will be happening so they behave normally. That being said, you do want to engage them in a dialogue. If you need help starting a conversation with your workers after observing them, here are some questions that can help:
- Can you show me how you perform this task?
- Is it always done this way?
- Do problems ever pop up for you?
- What would you change about this if you could?
- What tools do you use?
After your walk, reflect on what you’ve observed. Perhaps you saw employees spending a lot of time walking back and forth to get tools, and some workers suggested rearranging a workstation to reduce this wasted time. Now you can come up with a plan to make the needed changes, determine who will implement them, and follow through to see the adjustments are made. Even better, you can follow up again on a future gemba walk after the changes have occurred to observe whether the process has improved. Whatever you observed and discussed with workers, consider how those observations can be turned into improvements that will create a better product for your customer.