What is a Gemba Walk?
This is an abstract.
A "Gemba Walk" is a walk to the "scene of the action" that allows, for example, management to get a realistic and true-to-life impression of production.
"Gemba Walk" or: "Go and see" instead of "Sit and wish".
The mysterious-sounding word "gemba" comes from Japanese and means something like "the true place. A "true place" is a location that is the focus of an activity or observation. For a police officer, for example, this can be a crime scene, or for a journalist, the place where his story takes place. For people in the Lean environment, "true places" are the places where work takes place, i.e., where value is created. The following text refers to the meaning in the lean environment.
Taiichi Ohno and the chalk circle.
Gemba Walk is important for management to better understand the operations and challenges of their own organization: Instead of relying purely on reports, even across multiple levels if necessary, you look at the situation yourself on the ground.
An anecdote from Taiichi Ohno (inventor of the Toyota Production System and thus father of Lean Thinking): He took each and every manager he hired to the production floor on the first day, drew a circle of chalk on the floor, and told the manager to stand in it and observe the processes throughout the day. He would not step out of the circle until he found suggestions for improvement based on his observations.
Experience the Gemba Walk.
"Gemba Walk", often equated with "Go and See", means: I go to places and experience the current reality there through observation and questioning, so to speak live and with all my senses. This gives me a better understanding of processes and requirements and allows me to replace assumptions about process steps, anemic process documentation and the like with experience and facts gathered on site. This in turn allows me to better support processes because I better understand the person doing the work and their situation. Accordingly, the main goal of the Gemba Walk can be derived as: Identify opportunities for Continuous Improvement and implement them in the follow-up. The bottom line is that Gemba Walks are workplace inspections with the goal of identifying opportunities for improvement in order to increase productivity through their implementation.
Who actually does Gemba Walks and why?
Gemba Walks are part of the Lean Production Process. Originally, they were introduced to help management understand conditions on the shop floor and thus provide a more reliable basis for improvement. So to speak: "Go and see." instead of "Sit and wish.". Gemba Walks lend themselves to being conducted by teams of colleagues from different departments. In this way, as many perspectives as possible can be united and, in the end, the most comprehensive understanding possible can be achieved.
Gemba Walks can offer surprises.
In principle, however, Gemba Walks are useful for all those who develop or deliver products or services. The reason for this is that, for example, an on-site inspection and survey can also be an eye-opener for agile teams. - For example, it can be surprising for teams to see that their implementation of a program mask is perfectly meet the given requirements, but nonetheless is a pain for the users. - For example if in case a mask is called up, another window is opened that disrupts the workflow. - Another problem can be that the programming assumed certain screen sizes, which turn out to be wrong in reality and cause problems. Gemba Walks have a firm place in the lean-agile environment.
Gemba Walks also exist in SAFe®.
For example, the scaled agile SAFe© framework provides for Product Team Gemba Walks to learn how stakeholders do work within their operational value streams. This is of course with the aim of being able to support this way of working even better in the future through better understanding.
What a Gemba Walk is and what it is not.
The purpose of the Gemba Walk is to observe and investigate real work processes in a real work environment in order to gain knowledge and derive appropriate improvements.
Definitely not subject to a Gemba Walk, however, are, among others:
Control of employees
Ad hoc changes to processes
Auditing (review of work with regard to process conformity)
What is the role of the employees in this process?
If employees behave differently than normal during the Gemba Walk, e.g. in order to carry out processes in a "compliant" or "exemplary" manner, this is counterproductive. Counterproductive because the observations made on site do not correspond to the "real world", which in turn leads to decisions being made on the basis of incorrect data, which in turn reduces the effectiveness of the measures derived. For this reason, among others, it is extremely important to inform the visited employees in advance about the Gemba Walk itself as well as its objective, and also about what is expected of them in this context.
What is also important.
One Gemba Walk does not make a summer.
Gemba Walks only make a difference if measures are derived from them and if they are also implemented and reviewed (PDCA). For this purpose, Gemba Walks should be performed regularly.
And: I should know beforehand what I want to have understood after the Gemba Walk.
Gemba Walk is not the same as Management by Walking Around (MBWA)While MBWA is about getting a good exchange between employees and management by "walking around", Gemba Walk involves a question or focus and should be prepared accordingly.
Educate the people whose workplace is being visited in advance.
It must be clear to the employees who are visited what is at stake and what is not.
- Also, that their help and expertise is needed and why it is important that they do everything as they always do during the visit should be understood by them.
Interview the people who do the work and withhold judgment.
Respect people and their work.
In order to be able to put things into the right context afterwards, it is advisable to document observations and information directly on site. - In addition to notes, photos and videos are also useful here, depending on the context.
Involve the people who do the work in the implementation of the measures.
After successful implementation, check with the employees on site to see what changes the measures have brought about so far before... we move on to the "next round".