Gemba walks are often misunderstood as “managing by walking around,” workplace inspections or audits. It’s not about walking around. It’s about walking with a cause! A critical element of leader standard work, gemba walks are scheduled walkthroughs of a designated area or process with a very clear purpose. By design, the leader of every gemba session points out process improvement opportunities, questions existing conditions and assigns follow up tasks to be completed prior to the next gemba session.
These sessions are critical staff development tools that can quickly develop employee skills, encourage involvement and strengthen accountability. Positive reinforcement and modeling desired behaviors promotes a “do what I do” rather than a “do what I say” leadership model. Ongoing leadership presence demonstrates a real commitment to continuous improvement. Further, employees learn to view organizational leaders as teachers, and not just disciplinarians. When you decide to “walk with a cause,” use these seven simple steps to prepare for an effective gemba walk:
Select a process, topic or theme and make it team focused.
Create a premise or hypothesis that explains why you believe the topic needs to be addressed. An area leader might pose questions like: a) “I believe that we have excess WIP in and around our production areas causing excess lead time in delivering products to our customers. Let’s go take a look.”, or b) “I have a hunch that our absenteeism and excessive operator rotation could be contributing to our increase in production defects, or c) Let’s go and see what we can find out.”, or d) “I suspect that our metric boards are not identifying the root causes of issues. Let’s take an hour and review the effectiveness of our metric board countermeasures and assignments.”
Formalize a list of questions to review during the gemba session. For example, here are some questions that you might ask when focusing on equipment and tool maintenance: a) Is there evidence of a formal preventative maintenance and auditing program?, b) Is a timetable and tracking sheet posted near critical tools and equipment?, or c) Are operators involved in daily equipment and tool maintenance? or d) Have we conducted a Pareto analysis of our unscheduled equipment downtime?
Share your experiences and feedback as you walk through the area or process. Be sure to keep the comments and examples reinforcing and constructive.
Make appropriate notes and assign follow up homework. Use a “what, who and when” format to track assignments and create accountability.
Establish how often you will conduct gemba sessions with your team. Frequency should be based on desired skill development as well as issue severity.
Cascade your expectations and encourage your reports to conduct gemba sessions with their respective teams.
Foster a “train the trainer” mentality that promotes the importance of your company being a learning organization.
The only way that you can change the way your direct reports think is by challenging and changing the way you manage. Be a rebel with a cause and transition your company into a learning organization that emphasizes employee training and development by doing gemba walks with a purpose!