Process walk, also known as a Gemba walk, is the practice of literally walking through a process step by step to study its intricate details and how it matches the current plans (or doesn’t). It’s a powerful technique that can do a lot to improve an organization’s perception of its own practices, but it has to be applied correctly in order to achieve proper results. It’s important to observe certain practices that will ensure consistency in the final results, otherwise there might be some confusion over the kinds of changes that have to be implemented.
Treat the Process as Completely Unknown
When going on a process walk, you should consider yourself completely uninformed about the way the process is carried out and all of its intricate details. This will allow you to see everything from an objective perspective, evaluating each step of the process on its own as well as in the grand scheme of things. It will also help you avoid any misunderstanding that may arise from your own misconceptions about the process.
Be a Passive Observer
On a similar note, make sure that you don’t interrupt the walk in any way. Let the people responsible for guiding you through the process do that, and simply passively observe everything throughout the entire walk from start to finish. It’s possible that you will spot things you want to comment on, but it’s important that you see the entire walk as one big piece from start to finish, as this will allow you to properly evaluate how well the process works and what needs to be changed in it.
Otherwise, you’ll be making isolated comments based on things you’re seeing without the full context, which may lead you to the wrong conclusions, and subsequently, the wrong modifications to the process itself.
Don’t Comment on Documented Proper Practices During the Walk
Likewise, save any comments you might have about the process and how it relates to currently established practices for until after you’re done with the process walk. The reasons are similar to what we described above – it’s very likely that you simply don’t see the whole picture right now, and what you perceive as a deviation from the process might simply be part of the plan that has been implemented some time ago.
It could even be a change driven by a previous process walk, and you can’t be sure what the motivation behind some of those differences is until you’ve probed properly. Because of this, you should observe the process walk carefully, take whatever notes you might have about the situation, and then discuss it with the people giving you the walk.
Look out for Opportunities for Improvement
And of course, you should always be on the lookout for potential spots where the process can be improved. Once you’re sure you’re dealing with the full picture and you’re considering every variable properly, you’ll probably start to see some patterns in the way the process is carried out. From then on, deciding what needs to be changed to improve the process simply boils down to looking at the data you’ve collected and adjusting the right variables.
Process walk is a great opportunity to spot areas where the organization’s processes can be improved – sometimes significantly. However, it must be carried out in a precise manner, taking various factors into account in order to ensure that you don’t interfere with your own results. The biggest problem with process walk and the way it’s typically carried out is that people often ignore the importance of ignoring their own assumptions until after the whole walk is finished.