Gemba Walk

Go to the place where the work is performed, that is the Gemba walk.  This does not apply just to manufacturing, but also line managers and their respective departments as well as to project management. You want to know what is going on, what could be better, go unto the work space and watch and talk with the people doing the work.

Where the work is performed, depends upon the work.  For example, if you are the manager of a product testing department, the place where the work is performed is likely the lab,  Go where the Hardware In the Loop (HIL) rigs and see how things are going, go to the test rooms where the environmental (hot and cold) and other stimuli (vibration) are administered to the product.  Learn how this work is actually being done. Ask questions about how the work is going.  What sort of things are difficult and why? What can we do to make the work easier to accomplish, quicker, in general better?

If we are a project manager, we will want to visit our project team, ideally that team would be co-located so it is possible to visit with either the entire team.  Talk with the team in the space where they are performing the work on behalf of the project to achieve the objectives.   Visit where the requirements are being learned and gathered, is there difficulty in the process, are there risks associated with uncovering the expectations of the product?

If your team is manufacturing, then the place where the work is accomplished is the manufacturing line. Therefore, you will need to spend time on the manufacturing line, watching the work, talking with those most close to the work.  Ask questions about the processes that the staff are using to accomplish the work, perhaps see if we are actually performing the work according to the defined process.  I have friends in manufacturing that spend considerable amount of time on the factory floor, watching the work, asking people about how the work is done, and checking for new ideas for how to accomplish the work with greater ease an better quality or less variation.  Make no mistake however, this is not a social visit, to that end, there are a few steps we want to follow;

  1. Write down questions you think you may want to ask – for example, perhaps you have looked at data from the work that suggests the company would benefit from this being more quickly executed or of a better quality.  However, don’t be wed to this, look for opportunities that may arise out of the exchanges with the people.
  2. In your exchanges with those doing the work, share what you know and your experiences as well.  This should be an exchange and not an interrogation.
  3. Talk with those that are doing the work, so they understand what you are working to achieve.  The objective of this exploration should be known, without knowing that, it is not possible to pull people together to meet the goals of the organization.  This is an opportunity to explore mental models.
  4. Take notes, do not forget why you are there.  You are seeking to make things better, to improve the work space, you should take notes, action items, of things being explored.  This is much like a meeting in that regard, we need action items and notes to drive actions and as part of setting up the schedule.

The Gemba walk is also a good opportunity to connect with the staff in the context of the work, not just look at it from a perspective of the work, but an opportunity to express gratitude for the application of their skill, talent, and effort on behalf of the organization.  Showing interest in the work of another, even if you are not seeking to change the work, or find a better way to do the work, can be seen as a demonstration of the value of that work. Specifically, would we take time out of our busy work day to inquire into things about which we do not give one care?  Not likely.

The point to the Gemba walk is to understand how the work is undertaken, to uncover problem areas and evoke improvements to how the work gets accomplished.   It is important to know that this technique does not apply solely to manufacturing.  Walking around where the work is done can help, but you have to make the most of the opportunity, and therefore will require some measure of discipline coupled personal and individual engagement.

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