The word ‘Gemba’ originates from Japan and can be translated to “the real place”. When referring to management systems, this simply means being able to observe the actual place work happens. If you are going to use the Gemba Walks tool in your organisation, it is important that all employees involved have a solid understanding of what this actually is, and why it is important. There are 3 key aspects to the gemba walks tool, which are as follows;
Gemba Walks is a tool designed to observe the many processes of an organisation, in the hopes of coming up with opportunities and ideas for improvements. The idea behind this is that the top managers of organisations often do not actually see the tasks being carried out in their natural environment.
They will often only know what they have heard about the processes or how they assume they would perform. By getting these top managers out onto the floor, and observing the processes, first hand, they may be able to spot opportunities to improve, that they otherwise would not have.
Certain steps should also be followed when carrying out Gemba Walks. An outline of the steps you can follow are seen below;
Prior to starting the actual gemba walk, it is imperative that you have a plan in place for what the Gemba Walk sets out to do. Is your focus based on increasing productivity, reducing waste, improving safety procedures, or improving cost efficiency? Your plan for the Gemba walk will change depending on whatever the desired goal is, so make sure this is set from the beginning.
By having a plan that is set related to the desired outcomes, the manager will be able to come up with questions to ask on the walk.
Note: It is important to ask questions on the walk in order to gain a deeper understanding, but suggestions relating to what has been said should be left out of the actual walk.
This step relates to gathering the team that is going to be observed and informing them of what is going on. During this step, it is important you highlight the importance of the Gemba Walk and what it sets out to achieve.
It is no secret that when making changes or alterations to processes and procedures in the work place, the employees will be more on board if they feel respected and considered. When implementing changes that aim to continuously improve the organisation, ensure all the employees affected are aware of it, and are aware of the importance of implementing it. In order to do this, you may need to fully explain the gemba to them and why it is a useful tool. You should also give them a reason as to why their department needs to be observed.
By following the stream where the value is flowing, you will be able to identify areas that have a high degree of waste, and aim to eliminate this. Ultimately, this should spark an area of continuous improvement, which can be looked into further later on.
This step is important as it links back with the idea that continuous improvement is process focused (not employee focused). Most errors and deficiencies are actually caused by mistakes in the processes, therefore making it valuable to use our time looking at these.
Ultimately, the manager should observe, and try to understand the way the processes are working, or how they could be improved. There are other tasks and tools that can be used in order to evaluate employee performance – this is not the time. Most errors and deficiencies are actually caused by mistakes in the processes, therefore making it valuable to use our time looking at these.
Gemba walks can often have a lot going on at once, and therefore it will be important to report the findings along the way. Documenting what you observe along the way will be effective so that you do not have to make suggestions along the way, and can properly discuss options once the walk is finished. Once you have documented your observations and completed the Gemba walk, you should submit your recommendations into platform designed at improving the organisation.
If you carry out the Gemba walk a a team, this will mean you have more sets of eyes to observe and notice things that you might have missed on your own. Not every gemba walk requires an extra set of eyes, so determine the scope of what you are going to be observing, and the implications if miss something along the way then decide if anyone should join you on the walk.
In regards to who could join you on the walk, you could use an employee from another department who can provide a fresh perspective, a vendor to your company, or even a customer.
The final step of the Gemba walk is to share your observations with the employees involved. This will include sharing any next steps that need to happen, and if there are no next steps to be done, the employees involved need to be made aware of this.
If you miss this step, the team may feel like they have only been watched with no outcome, which can lead to the feeling of being judged or review, which a Gemba walk is not.
If any changes are going to be made as a result of the Gemba Walk, it is important that you repeat the Gemba in order to see if the changes have improved the processes or procedures. This doesn’t have to be a full recap of what you observed the first time, as only some aspects may now be relevant. Decide what you need to follow up on, and focus on this area.