Go-to Gemba: Muda walk

“Muda” in Japanese means waste. Imai san says that in Japan, companies especially noted for implementing Lean, such as Toyota, at all levels of managers are expected to spend one hour a day in the operations are a doing a Muda Walk. This is not really walking around the Gemba, but going to the Gemba (work area – real place) to watch the operations.  This is watching for a long time, not passing through. Watching to see how the work process is done. It is watching to see where waste exists in the current processes. The idea of of Muda walk is that the problems are visible, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to the gemba. The muda walk, is an activity that takes management to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities to practice Gemba kaizen, or practical shopfloor improvement.

The most important thing to note here is Gemba walks are different from Muda walks. Most Lean practioners are confusing Gemba walks with Muda walks while they are quite different. Muda walks purpose is to develop “eyes for waste”. As Shigeo Shingo rightly stated “The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize”. The purpose of Gemba walk is beyond Muda hunt. The purpose of Gemba walk is to understand the current condition of your value stream at four levels: purpose, process, people and problem solving. Gemba walks are about continuous improvement which drives waste out of processes. However, it should not be about waste hunting at all. Gemba walks that focus on generating to-do improvement lists.

KAIZEN™ activities would be associated with shop floor owned activities, you may track such issues by leaving a list on a team board on the shop floor. If you identified big issues, such as value stream rearrangement, Jidoka, etc [Kaikaku (radical change) activities], responsibility to resolve/change these issues may sit with higher level management and may require a different management/tracking approach. Medium size issues like Jishuken (Team Learning Activities/Shared knowledge) could use an A3 problem solving report to scope activities, explore possible issues/solutions and drive action.  

Eight types of waste

Defects: Scrap, rework, replacement, inspection

Over-production: Manufacturing in anticipation; producing faster than, before or more than required by your customer-internal and external

Transportation: Carrying WIP to long distances, inefficient transport

Waiting: Stock outs, batch processing delays, equipment downtime, capacity bottlenecks

In appropriate processing: Unnecessary or over processing

Motion: Treasure hunts for tools, materials or information, such as drawings, contracts or reference books.

Inventory: Uncut materials, works in process, finished fabrications, materials not yet installed and being used by the customer including spare parts, unused tools, consumables, forms, copies, employee stashes and personal stockpiles.

Wasted human potential: Skills, creativity, willingness….

The Muda Walk is a simple tool any manager can use. Invest the time in watching what is happening, and it will payback dividends. The challenge with most managers is that they can’t or won’t make the time to go and see what is happening where the work is done. We all have the same 24 hours in a day! Muda walk helps the manager to identify the potential areas of improvement (waste is identified). The important thing is that it drives action and engages the people in the workplace (at all levels) on removing waste from your business by getting down to the Gemba and seeing issues first hand (Go Look See). 

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