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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Got to the Gemba with a Plan and Purpose

You can’t make the right decisions from the meeting room. You have to go, watch, and learn. In Lean, we talk about “going to the Gemba” or Gemba Walks. The Gemba means the “place where value is created”. The idea is simple; if you want to improve your business, you need to learn more about your processes, your people, your customers, you need to go and see for yourself. 

Managers and business leaders today are often so separated from the actual work by corporate structures. They have not seen the process. They have not spoken to any customers. And they don’t even talk to the people who do the work daily. 

When you make decisions at arm’s length – there is no real understanding of what is happening. Often this causes customers and employees more pain. If you want to make a difference, go and see for yourself and learn what your employees need you to do to make customers happier. 

The Gemba is also the place you go just not to learn but also to lead others. It is where you train your people, invest in colleagues learnings and spend time engaging directly with your customers. 

Planning for the Gemba can make a difference in earning the right of being respected as a leader. Going with purpose accomplishes small but daily wins, it is how momentum is built. Conversations with value stream workers will be constructive and target conditioned based. 

How to plan for your next Gemba walk: 

1. Identify the Purpose for the Gemba Walk 

Before you go on any Gemba Walk, you must identify what is the purpose of the Gemba Walk and what is the theme. You might be looking for ways to improve productivity, reduce costs, reduce errors, improve flow or help facilitate improvement ideas. But you need to be clear on the purpose otherwise you will get lost and tied up in whatever is happening on the floor without clear improvements and outcomes. 

2. Ensure you understand the process you are about to observe 

If you do not know the high-level process that you are about to observe, the chances are that you will not be able to fully grasp the opportunities that exist. So before you begin any Gemba Walk, make sure you understand what you are about to observe so that you can provide the necessary support, guidance and insights. 

3. Recognize how the process performs in its current state 

During the Gemba Walk, the goal is always to be focused on the process and what stops the process from achieving its goals of maximizing customer value. So as you observe the process, consider the inputs into the process and are they fit for purpose. And how does the process, the inputs and the teams interact. 

Before jumping to solutions or opportunities, make sure you spend time observing and carefully understand how the current start is performing. Is the process performing as expected or is there delays, rework, confusion, movement etc? 

4. Visualize the gap between the ideal state and what actually happens 

Now that you have understood the current status, what is the best ideal state and where are the gaps. The ideal state does not have to be a perfect future state but an achievable ideal state (given a number of restrictions). What you want to identify here is what is the gap that can potentially then be closed. 

5. Look for opportunities for improvements to close the gap 

With a clear gap between the current and the ideal, what activities could be done by the team, managers, team leaders to help close this gap. Engage with the team, discuss options and build a document action plan for driving improvements. 

Gemba walks are a valuable way to improve business performance by identifying what is really happening on the shop floor. By taking steps to plan your Gemba walk, you’ll begin to overcome the mistakes of having to ad-lib, positioning yourself to be a more respected, effective, and successful leader. 

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