Gemba Walk or Gemba Watch Part I

Sustenance of improvements is the key to the success of Kaizen. Daily Kaizen™ enables sustenance. Gemba Walk is an inherent part of Daily Kaizen™. Gemba walk is a management technique that is gaining ground of late among the leaders. Gemba, literally means a raised podium. Just as a podium attracts attention, Gemba is a place that attracts attention of one and all. Or in other words, Gemba refers to the Workplace, where Value is added, problems are resolved. It may be a production floor, an operation theatre, a farmland, a construction site, a classroom or an office.

We need to make clear that Gemba Walk is not about shaking hands and greeting colleagues. Gemba Walk is incomplete if the Gembutsu is not addressed. Gemba-Walk is not a morning walking exercise but a part of “CHECK” activity in the P-D-C-A cycle. It is a process of observing whether the activities are being done in the way they are ought to be done! It is more about watching than walking.

Gemba Walk is a practice by Managers, Team Leaders, Cell-supervisors etc., wherein they personally observe how the processes are being executed in the workplace. By visiting the Gemba, leaders gain valuable insight into the value stream where opportunities for improvement are discovered and new ways to support employees are learnt. During a Gemba Walk, managers physically go to the places where people are working together making products, solving problems, analysing data, maintaining machinery, support customers or any other process. Employees tend to be open pointing out opportunities for improvement, or sharing concerns when they are met in their workplace. The objective of Gemba Walk is to get easy & instant feedback, identify concerns pertained to workplace or processes and to build trust with the team by listening to and addressing to their concerns.

In general, Leaders who have committed to Gemba Walk typically should be spending 5 to 10% of their work time at the Gemba. During the Gemba walk, the leaders pay full attention, observe the processes, comparing the actual status with standards specified, ask probing questions and identify the areas of concern. Gemba walk provides us an opportunity for observation only, not action. Let us not get into problem-solving mode while we do the Gemba walk. It may be very tempting to jump to solutions or make improvements on the fly, but changes should be made only after thorough Hansei. PDCA methodology or 8-step GKW methodology is the right way to do problem solving.

Should the Gemba Walk be done alone or peers can join? This question remains with most of the members. While not every Gemba walk needs to be a joint-effort, bringing along a leader from a different functional area of the organization can bring in a fresh perspective of viewing things. People who are less familiar with a process might ask a different set of questions that sheds light on the work in a new way. Having a Business development guy doing a Gemba walk would add value in terms of understanding the process of the product is made and how does it add value.

Remember the Chalk-circle exercise. Choose a spot in the Gemba – be it shop-floor, reception area, office or Security Gate from where the entire activities of that Gemba can be seen clearly. A circle has to be drawn with a chalk and observations are to be made by standing inside the circle. Taking notes, capturing pictures are allowed. It is better that all those in the Gemba are aware of what one is doing (chalk-circle exercise) or else they would feel awkward to such a situation or one would be blamed for staring. They should realize that the purpose is to remove hurdles or wasteful activities resulting in increased productivity.

In short, one needs to look for abnormalities during a Gemba walk. Abnormality is defined as “anything that is not in best or perfection condition/ state”. While it is an activity of observation of what is going on and how things are done, one should also visualize on what is supposed to be happening; how better this job can be done by increasing the Value added proportion. Hence, the Gemba walk must have a defined objective, preferably associated with the concerns of not achieving the cascaded KPIs.

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