Do you walk the walk or are you all talk? Understanding Gemba and the true purpose of Gemba Walks is crucial. Gemba is “where the work is done” or better yet, the “real place.” A Gemba Walk then is just simply a “walk where it is done.” This process is simple and straightforward. It is intended to move leaders from the office or behind the computer out to where the action is, where the work is done. Many will immediately say “management by walking around” (MBWA). This is an old school concept and significantly broad. The fact is, leaders at all levels must be out where the work is done. Business does not get done behind a PC and effective leaders understand they must influence from Gemba, not in their office! Look at a leader that spends the majority of their work day behind a desk and you will see someone that is ineffective, out of touch and unable to drive their business. Harsh words maybe, but factual none the less. The process of Gemba Walks begins like any other business process. It must be understood, planned and conducted with specific intent.
We have defined what Gemba and Gemba Walks are, now let’s look at the elements that go into the process:
- Plan the Walk: Be specific as to where and what the outcomes are to be achieved.
- Go to the Gemba: Get out on the floor or in the business where business is done.
- Understand the Process: Look for opportunity, waste, problems and seek patterns.
- Show Respect: Engage the hearts and minds of the people by showing respect, relying on them, developing and challenging them.
One of the most crucial steps in the process is planning. Start your planning with understand what is to be accomplished. Be specific. Are you looking for achievements or areas of improvement? Break down the Gemba into parts or process and target a specific area. With these specifics identified, go into the Gemba Walk with focus, intent and respect for the people. While you are engaged in the Gemba Walk, be 100% engaged and do not allow distractions. Talking on the phone, responding to emails or texts and engaging in casual or personal conversations during the walk is disrespectful to the people and will distract you from seeing what is really going on in your business. You must have the mindset that there is no more important task you could be doing than the Gemba Walk.
After completing your Gemba Walk, real and visible action is required. By taking action, you are showing respect to the people and demonstrating that your conversations were meaningful. Gemba Walks that have no follow up or after action responses are considered useless. Keep the following steps in mind:
Spend time reflecting and capturing key takeaways from the walk.
- Prioritize and categorize your thoughts and findings.
- Use Pareto or Trend Charts for evaluations for your future walks.
- Document who you talked with and their comments.
- Provide feedback to other leaders and management.
- Follow up with individuals offering key insights or questions to keep the engagement going.
Getting the most out of Gemba Walks requires both planning and follow-up. Planning and execution are just as important as the post-walk follow-up.