Gemba Walk Know-How: Preparation & Interpretation
Gemba walks are a powerful piece of your Lean toolbox, and constitute a straightforward way for business owners and managers to find and remedy issues that affect their production. As Lean tools are all about efficiency and waste elimination, a Gemba walk generally fits agreeably into any improvement regimen you may already have planned or in motion.
In this blog post, we’re going to go through what exactly a Gemba walk is, with specific focus on the pre-walk prep and also on how to organize and use your results once you obtain them. The main purpose to approaching Gemba in this way is that there are countless articles already out there that simply go through how to conduct the actual walk itself.
Where such walkthroughs fall short, however, is in realizing that Gemba is mostly about the approach; a knowledgeable mindset and stellar preparation are the keys to a successful Gemba walk, and solid interpretation and presentation of results is the only way to get your time’s worth out of the technique. So, after a quick look at the core of this Lean technique, we’ll be bypassing anymore exposition on the basics.
The Quick & Dirty (Gemba) Walkthrough
Just in case you don’t know what a Gemba walk is or haven’t heard the term, it goes a little something like this: During a Gemba walk, you will be making observations about specific or various systems within your business. These will include notes on efficiency, how well (or not well) a process is currently being run, where people appear to be struggling or where bottlenecks are potentially occurring in your system, a potential safety hazard, notes on employee behavior, both positive and negative, etc.
Afterward, you’ll be using the observations that you’ve made to make improvements to the way your business runs. Ultimately, your end goal will be to cut down on waste and skyrocket your efficiency, albeit one step at a time; these are pretty much the goals of any Lean operation.
Preparing for your first Gemba Walk
In order to ensure that your walk is as effective as it can be, there are several steps you need to take and aspects you need to consider before you ever step out onto the floor with your clipboard (or iPad, or whatever you’ll be using to track your observations).
One of the first things to consider when planning your Gemba walk is how your employees will react. A large part of this is whether they actually even know you’re “up to something” or not while you conduct the walk. In most every case – unless you’re wanting to influence the results (shame!) – it will be for the best if your employees never even hear mention of the term “Gemba walk” before you conduct it.
You’re biggest tool for authenticity and accuracy in your results is the continued normal behavior of your workers. If workers are on their best behavior just because they know you’ve got some evaluation thing you’re working on, you’re hardly going to be observing an average workday. Sure, you’d like for stellar behavior and efficiency to be the norm, but the reality is that probably isn’t the case (yet).
So, in general, keep your plans under wraps.
Narrowing Down Goals Pt. 1
By definition, Gemba is usually considered a holistic approach in which you are observing a production line or system from start to finish. That said, biting off too big of a chunk of your business at a time can make Gemba observations too general and thus less helpful to you in the end.
One of the best ways to prepare for a Gemba walk is to section off a small piece of your operation you really want to work on and improve, rather than trying to just generally make your workplace ‘more efficient’.
While not technically a Gemba walk, consider making brief walkthroughs over time and getting an idea of some of the areas of your business that need the most improvement; these will form your top candidates for real Gemba walks.
Let’s say you notice that employees are always having to spend extra time on a certain machine (maybe its attachments have become warped and are hard to take on and off, etc.). If – at a brief glance – everything else appears to be running smoothly, consider preparing to focus on that specific area of production in your walk.
Narrowing Down Goals Pt. 2 – “You know what they say about assuming…”
Once you’ve got an area you want to focus on, stop! Confused? You don’t want to be formulating theories as to why things are or aren’t working in a certain way from a distance. A huge part of Gemba are objective observations, and that means not entering the scene with any assumptions.
In crime shows on TV, standard format is to mislead the viewer by showing a suspect early on. Often, the shows detective/police characters formulate their investigation under the assumption that that individual was indeed the culprit until (surprise!) it ends up being someone else. Don’t be a fooled detective and try to fit observations/evidence to a pre-existing or ‘obvious’ theory.
Keeping this in mind will help to ensure that you don’t “tunnel vision” yourself by looking so hard at one thing you don’t see other potentially valuable observations around you.
While you don’t want to assume anything, you should have a framework in place for what you want to learn, so you aren’t completely all over the place. For example, you might want to learn why an area isn’t able to handle the input it’s getting with adequate throughput.
Or maybe there have been a number of accidents among a group of workers, and you want to observe any potential safety hazards or behaviors that might be contributing. For these examples, your mission for the walk might be to “improve throughput of station X” or “reduce injuries amongst team Y.”
Turning Observations Into Actionable Results
So you’ve done your pre-walk prep, you’ve gathered your observations, and now you’re all ready to streamline production and usher in a new era of efficiency… almost. Right now, you’re at a crucial junction where your efforts up to this point could be a catalyst of change or all for nothing.
The first thing you need to do is enlist a few minds in addition to your own to sift through your observations and decide what kinds of changes need to be made (and would have the most impact on your goals).
Once you’ve sussed out a few ideas, you need to turn these into actionable plans with specific roles. Even if you relay your concerns or even findings to your workers, it is your job to provide a path to improvement and the exact steps to do so, not theirs.
Any plan you create should not only be clear and easy to follow, but should lay out specific changes for specific teams or team members. Finally, any action plans you create should be publicly displayed and laid out in a way that serves as an easy reminder to workers as to what is expected of them going forward.
So there you have it, the pre- and post- of Gemba walks; now get out there and use ’em!