25. Jul. 2018

Gemba Walk or Gemba Watch Part II

by NARASIMHAN GOPALKRISHNAN-SENIOR CONSULTANT AT Kaizen Institute INDAF

click here to read part l

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.

Generally, it is preferred to observe one person/ process and take up one issue at a time. Often, the biggest opportunities for improvement are found by following the value stream. It is a preferable to seek employees’ inputs on choosing the right processes, shifts, or work areas that might benefit from a Gemba Walk. Let us keep in mind that by doing so, the leader brings in a fresh perspective to the old processes. By involving people where to focus for improvement, they are getting engaged in the improvement process too.

Now, follow the trap line upstream till we arrive at the source of the problem. By doing so, we will have an assignable root cause right in front of us. However, the catch is here. It is not the leader’s responsibility to fix a problem. As we walk in the Gemba, we are assessing how well our organization is tuned to living with these issues, or how well these issues are attended to, how the root-causes are identified, & how soon they are resolved. The coaching begins at this stage if we were able to see these opportunities. If the issue was unaddressed, there are a couple of other problems the leader must address.

The process owner in downstream is coping with the issue/ problem which should be raised. Or, even worse is, there is no process to highlight the issues (lack of upstream management) further more worse is, the situation remains same even after raising an alarm or pressing the panic button. Upstream Management is the key and this needs to be emphasized among the team members. Second, the process owner is unaware of what his customer wants (Market In – Internal Customers’ requirement). The requirement is known but verifying the same is not in place.

Gemba walk is not to criticize people nor it is done for performance evaluation. Rather, it is the evaluation of the processes established and how well the organization is accustomed to the processes. The purpose is to observe, understand, identiy and improve processes. The walk should never an impression of “walking-to-punish”. Let the value adders be aware that they will be questioned about the processes and it is being done to understand their difficult areas and to resolve them. Leaders who are on the Gemba walk might never get the “right” answers, but will always get a honest and complete feedback of the situation. If work isn’t being done according to the Standard, let them say so but never encourage to cover it up.

Always it is welcome to have notes jotted down during the Gemba Walk. The solutions to the problems observed will happen only after the walk and not during it. So, taking notes is a must. This will also be used as a document to submit the tasks on a continuous improvement initiative platform. Apart from taking notes and submitting them to the concerned members, it is advisable to follow through them. Taking photographs also can be done if allowed.

Let us not allow prejudices or pre-conceived notions give a colour to our observations. Let us learn to approach the Gemba with an open mind. Let us not assume that whatever is happening is as per the Standards. Let us ask questions – for understanding and ascertaining. During a Gemba Walk, the manager asks open-leading questions (probing) about the process being observed. As we keep asking we will get answers for the following questions: Who is involved? Why the Standards are violated? How do you know what to do? Why the process is different from visualized one, What materials are used? what allows mistakes to happen, how will they correct, do people move around, is the ergonomics right, from where the information is made available, are they producing to plan, if not how do they know, when will they know, etc., The very purpose of doing this is to keep asking ourselves, “Why does this condition exist? How did it originate, since, when, from where, which are the affected areas, who can resolve it and how will they do it?” 5W-1H provides the right structure of questioning during a Gemba Walk.

Should one follow a standard time-schedule for a Gemba-Walk? I would prefer a No as an answer to this question. In order to get a real picture or complete sense of what happens in the process, it is a good idea to do Gemba walk at different times of the day rather than having a standard scheduled time. This might be marked in the Leader Standard Work however, not freezing the time but having the task in the LSW is preferable.

Gemba walk without follow-up will yield no result. Following up, sharing the lesson learnt, communicating the whole organization about the developments are the keys. Daily Accountability Board assists us in following up the progress to a great extent. We need to make it a point to re-visit the Gemba after the implementation of improvements are made – one to see the difference, another to identify further scope of improvement. 

Gemba walk is simple but not easy. Also,  simplicity should not lead to complacency. Proper execution is essential for the best results. Sticking with these best practices will help ensure that we come away from each walk with the information we need to make good decisions about how to improve processes and results.

  1. Opportunities for improvement are easier to spot from the work place than the board room.
  2. Gemba Walks reinforce executive commitment to improvement.
  3. They create a greater and more empathetic connection between workers and management.
  4. They give frontline workers an opportunity to participate in improvement and a way to raise concerns or questions.
  5. Gemba Walks give leaders the opportunity to recognize employee achievement and engagement.
  6. Leaders get the chance to see the results of past improvement efforts.
  7. They provide an opportunity for a new perspective.

The best way to learn is to do. Let us keep doing Gemba walks regularly and we will learn by ourselves. To summarize, Gemba walk is a “Check” of Plan-Do-Check-Act. We are checking the health of our leadership systems by looking at how our system engages people & the processes. Thus Gemba Walk is a process of developing your people.

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