Use a Gemba Walk to Help You Understand Your Process

Posted by on Feb 22, 2015 in Continuous Improvement, Lean, Process Improvement | 0 comments

A simple, but effective tool to help you better understand a process is a “gemba walk.”  Gemba is a Japanese word for “where the work takes place,” and so a gemba walk is nothing more than taking a walk in the area where the actual work is occurring.  Some of you may remember the term “management by walking around” that was popular many years ago. This is similar, but has a different focus.  In order to get the most from the gemba walk you must observe and keep the the following points in mind:

  • Is there a logical flow to the process, i.e., an observable beginning and end to it?  It doesn’t matter if the process is manufacturing or an admin process, can an observer come away and say the process starts here, goes through these steps, and ends at this point?  Does it make sense, or is there a lot of confusion?
  • Is there a method that’s being followed?  Is the method documented?  Have all employees been trained?  Are employees taking short cuts and by-passing critical steps?  Is the method adequate for the work being performed?
  • How much waste do you observe?  Are people standing/sitting around waiting for material, information, directions, tools, etc.  How much inventory, WIP and finished goods do you see?  Is the process a batch or continuous flow?  If it is a batch, how large is the batch size?  How easy is it for a person to do their job?  Do they have everything they need in the right quantity and in the right location?  How many defects are being generated and how much rework?  Is there a rework process?  Is the rework process documented and being followed?
  • Talk to the employees in the gemba.  What are their frustrations and concerns?  What suggestions do they have to make the job easier?  Remember, whatever improvement ideas are generated, the employees must execute them, so get them involved in the improvement process.
  • Is there a process owner?  Who is going to be responsible and accountable to make the necessary improvements?

I like to do a gemba walk with senior management when I start working with a new client.  It helps me see what’s really going on and gives me ideas where improvements can be made quickly.  You can use it where you have an area that isn’t performing, that’s struggling for whatever reason.

I also do a gemba walk every time I visit a client.  Are they holding the gains?  Is there noticeable improvement?  Has anything changed that may affect the process?  New employees?  New supervisor?  New supplier?  New customer?  I’d suggest, after you make any process improvements, that you and your leadership take a gemba walk at least monthly to ensure everything is the way you want it.

You can gain a wealth of knowledge and understand your processes better just by walking around and observing!

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