Where there is no order, there is chaos.
But, your company isn’t like that, right? Everything is done according to strictly defined rules and standards. Teams are tight, everyone is doing their part, and yet – you are missing the results you have set out to achieve. Those quarterly reports clearly show that you could be doing better.
If all operations are seemingly running the way they are supposed to, then what is the problem?
To find out, you could use a Gemba Walk.
How did “Gemba Walk” become a thing?
The term Gemba Walk is of Japanese origin and stems from the business world. “Gemba” means “the real place” or “the place where value is created”. You could also interpret it as “where the action is at” or “where the magic happens”.
Discovering true value
In business terms, Gemba is where the real work gets done, it is the most important segment of a company. The heart of productivity. For example, if you are managing a factory that produces gadgets, “Gemba” would be its assembly line. If you are running a music label, “Gemba” would be your recording studio.
Gemba Walk was introduced by Japanese industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno, who is considered the father of the Toyota Production System, often called The Toyota Way. Ohno was dedicated to developing concepts that improve productivity and business performance, recognize weaknesses, decrease expenses and save time.
Throughout his career, Ohno developed several business methods that quickly gained global popularity. For example, in 1988 The Toyota Way was adopted in the United States as Lean Manufacturing by John Krafcik, who worked at executive positions in Google and is currently the CEO of Maymo.
So, what exactly is a Gemba Walk?
It’s a walk. A tour of your business facilities and offices.
Okay, let’s explain. It’s a management technique that is used to identify true value, track down problems and increase productivity. Management and executives go on a walking tour of the offices and see actual work as it happens. They ask inquisitive questions, talk directly to staff members, inquire about their daily routines and methods.
A direct approach that delivers results
This is a very hands-on, direct approach. It takes management to the floor, right in the middle of ground zero, where actual work is conducted. Not executive office meeting rooms, but the actual places where staff spend their busy working hours.
By using the Gemba Walk as a management technique, leaders get insight into the actual workflow of their company. This gives room for problem-solving, added value, and continued growth.
Now that you have a little bit of a background story about the Gemba Walk (and trust us, this was just to get a general idea, you are free to analyze how the method came to be in greater detail), we can continue to the most important thing, and that is how to prepare yourself for an efficient Gemba Walk.
Your Gemba Walk Checklist
1 Define a theme
A Gemba Walk can only be efficient if you have planned it out properly. Picking a theme for your walk is crucial. How to pick one? Look into your priorities – what are the issues you want to be taken care of as soon as possible? Perhaps you want to cut down on expenses, or increase safety, get rid of unnecessary paperwork, or simply boost company morale for increased productivity.
If choosing a theme for your walk seems difficult, look into performance reports or have a brainstorming session with other members of management. Even an email survey for both management and staff could guide you.
2 Let your employees get ready
Announce the upcoming Gemba Walk to your employees. Let them know when it will happen and what it is all about. Your employees need to know the benefits of a Gemba Walk, so that you may earn their trust. They need to know that nobody’s job is on the line and that the point of a Gemba Walk is to increase the value of your company – not to fire somebody.
Being transparent beforehand eliminates stress among your staff. It’s crucial for a Gemba Walk that work is being done as usual, and to achieve that you need to make sure working conditions are the same as they are on any other working day.
3 Focus on the process, not the people
The point of a Gemba Walk is not to identify members of your staff who are problematic or outstanding. Individuals are not being analyzed. What is being analyzed is your company’s working process. Your goal is to understand each segment of the process, discover what your strengths are, and find out where there is room for improvement.
Always remember, this is not an evaluation of your employee’s performance, but rather the performance of your company as a whole.
4 Follow the value stream
Follow the chain of actual value, at the points where it is being created. Something seems missing? You are more likely to identify wasteful activities by using this method. One department of your office stands out with its productivity and attitude? Focus on their approach and see how it can be implemented in other segments of your work.
If you notice a certain procedure that provides great value, follow it across departments. In the same manner, when you see an issue or a drawback, follow it. See where it leads you.
5 Record your observations
Keep track of your observations by recording them. Carry a smartphone with you and take photos, record videos, record voice messages – every bit of info can be useful. You can even go old school and write down notes. The important thing is that you keep a record of your Gemba Walk observations.
Use your records to write a report after your Gemba Walk. What you have recorded will be direct information you got from, well, “the place where value is created”. This ensures your report will be insightful and detailed.
6 Ask direct questions
When it comes to seeking answers from your employees, be honest and always remain direct, on-point. Think like a reporter who is looking for answers. The three most basic questions can provide you with all the feedback you need:
How is something being done? How are you managing this amount of work? How do you keep track of your process? How much time do you need to complete a task?
What are you working on right now? What are the problems you are experiencing? What have you noticed about this particular task that makes it stand out?
Who is working with you on this project? Who are the people helping you with this assignment?
Who is your target audience? Who are your clients?
When are you doing this? Is there a regular time when this process is being implemented? When do you usually begin a project?
Where are you working from? Where do you think is the most stressful place in this office? Where can you get productive?
Why are you using this method and not something else? Why are you working on this project alone? Why do you need assistance with this project?
These were just some common examples. Feel free to write down those simple questions and add more of your own. Carry it with you as a checklist while you are conducting your Gemba Walk.
7 Save your suggestions for later
You are busy observing, analyzing, and getting answers. With that amount of feedback, you will come up with a lot of suggestions about how to make improvements. But, don’t burden your employees with suggestions while you are still Gemba walking around. Save them for later.
Once your Gemba Walk is done and you have written down your observations as a report, then get back to your employees and other members of management with suggestions regarding possible improvements. They will appreciate you more for waiting.
8 Make it a team walk
A Gemba Walk doesn’t have to be a one-person activity. Entire teams can go on a Gemba Walk. For example, as a manager, you can get someone from your team to join you, as well as people from other teams and departments. Gemba Walks work better with more pairs of eyes!
Switch it up a bit. Add business partners, investors, employees, or even clients and customers to your Gemba Walk team. Every one of them will bring a unique perspective to the fold.
For example, if your company is using specialized software or equipment, bring a representative of your vendor. Seeing how their product is being used could provide some very useful commentary.
9 Keep it flexible
When it comes to having a regular Gemba Walk schedule, keep it flexible. As we have previously mentioned, it’s advisable to announce your Gemba Walk before it happens and to make it a regular event. But, you don’t have to maintain a rigid schedule. Have a Gemba Walk every first Monday of the month? It’s best to keep it much more flexible than that.
Announce your Gemba Walk a week or several days in advance. It will not disrupt your workflow, and employees will have time to prepare. If they knew that a Gemba Walk was happening every month at the same time, feedback could become less insightful and more predictable and the task itself will lose its dynamic.
10 Get feedback from employees (and give feedback)
Asking questions during your Gemba Walk is necessary, and asking them after is incredibly useful. Provide your employees with a follow-up report about what you have learned from your Gemba Walk and what improvements can be made.
You can do this via email, in person, or through team management software. Let people ask questions and give their feedback. If you value their suggestions, your employees will know their opinion matters. This will strengthen teamwork and solidify you as an office leader.
11 Do another Gemba Walk (and another)
One of the main advantages of a Gemba Walk is that it gives room for growth and improvements. You can fix certain errors, get rid of setbacks, optimize your business flow. Once you’ve implemented the necessary changes you got from your first Gemba Walk, start preparing for another one.
Seriously? One isn’t enough?
Absolutely. It’s just the beginning of continued betterment. When Ohno originally developed the Gemba Walk, he knew that there is always room for improvement. Progress isn’t finite, and your business should never limit its room for growth.
Getting ready to walk
With a checklist like this one, you’re good to go. Okay, you also need to customize it and plan out your first Gemba Walk in advance but maintain a positive attitude and encourage yourself that this will be a long-term recurring activity.
If you want your business to evolve, there is no instant switch to take it to the next level. You need to take steps, and a Gemba Walk will get you there. In the long run, your staff will get used to improvements which will lead to greater productivity, with a firm belief that management truly values their efforts.