Gemba Walk: Delving Deep to Unearth Issues

In challenging times, controlling your costs is essential. It's not just about sourcing materials at a more affordable rate but working more efficiently. Every extra or mediocre step costs money. A Gemba Walk is a tool to identify and eliminate these "efficiency barriers."

What is a Gemba Walk?

When executives visit a workspace, it’s termed a Gemba Walk. The term “Gemba” originates from Japanese, meaning “the real place.” In business, this refers to the place where value is added. The Gemba Walk is an integral aspect of Lean Management. Its objective is to spot and remove unnecessary procedures.

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What’s the Purpose of the Gemba Walk?

To enhance processes, understanding the operations across various production and workspaces is crucial. This is the only way to understand how your employees work and the steps required to produce your offerings.

With the Gemba Walk approach, you closely observe the actions at the value-adding site. Sharp observation will help pinpoint areas for optimization, focusing on time-saving and avoiding “Mudas” – a term for wastage, like the unnecessary use of resources, also rooted in Japanese.

How to Conduct a Gemba Walk?

Start by visiting the observation site, watch your employees in action, and converse with them. Immediate remedial actions might ensue on the spot. Subsequently, rectify the root causes of the issues and enhance standardization, particularly in processes.

Your Gemba Walk should be well-organized and thought-through, typically comprising “Preparation,” “Execution,” and “Post-Execution” stages. In practice, this might look like:

  • Define a goal for your visit, such as improving efficiency in the manual assembly department. Inform the team you’ll be observing in advance. Make it clear that your tour isn’t about evaluating their performance but about understanding processes.
  • During the Gemba Walk, ask for detailed demonstrations. Talk to the employees, listen attentively, and ask questions to dive deeper, perhaps using the 5W method. If possible, address immediate concerns.
  • Take notes. Post-walk, address these notes and analyze significant barriers. Initiate necessary changes.

Post-Gemba Walk: What’s Next?

A Gemba Walk shouldn’t be a one-time exercise. Once issues are addressed, delve deeper into their causes because challenges are not just intricate but often complex.

Following Lean Management principles, ensure that your solutions are sustainable and straightforward. For instance, if during your Gemba Walk you notice many employees handling redundant processes inefficiently, standardize them and provide uniform tools.

Once you’ve completed the Gemba Walk and implemented corrective measures, it’s customary to inform the visited team. If no significant insights emerged or no improvements were instigated, communication remains crucial.

Be transparent, explaining your observations and actions. Clear and direct communication builds understanding for your Gemba Walks. Even if no optimization opportunities are identified now, situations could change shortly.

Your Gemba Walk Checklist: Questions to Ask

To deeply delve into on-site processes using the Gemba Walk approach, ask your employees the right questions. This will enable better observation and problem identification. Here’s a brief checklist to guide you:

  • What are you currently working on?
  • Is there an established process for this?
  • Are there any challenges with the operations?
  • Why do these challenges exist?
  • How can we resolve these issues?
  • What are the root causes or reasons?
  • Who do you liaise with when issues arise?

How Often Should You Conduct a Gemba Walk?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer since every company and department operates differently. The frequency also depends on your position. For instance, if you’re a production head in a factory, you might do a Gemba Walk almost daily. But, as a senior executive in a corporate setting, you might conduct it once or twice a year, at select locations.

Conclusion: From Gemba Walk to Lean Management

Lean Management, Hoshin Kanri, and similar management methodologies are in vogue, and rightly so. They proactively diminish and prevent all forms of wastage (time, resources, money). To pinpoint the Mudas in your organization, a Gemba Walk proves invaluable.

Keen observational skills and asking the right questions will make your Gemba Walk successful. Address issues not superficially but in depth. By doing so, you can institute changes that will enhance processes in the long run – perhaps even reducing the workload for your employees.

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