What comes after a Gemba walk?

By Bill Kirkpatrick, Life Cycle Engineering

I’m sure most of you reading this have at some point in your career heard the term Gemba and its translation to “the real place.” I like to think of it as simply where work occurs. The Gemba walk process is just that – taking a walk through Gemba. The topic is often covered in articles and presentations, with the common theme involving leadership going to the floor and “seeing” what’s going on. This is a proven process that is time well spent by any mid-to-high level manager or leader to 1) be seen, and 2) gain an understanding of the true pulse of the factory floor. Remember that a Gemba walk doesn’t always have to involve the factory floor; your Gemba could involve an office setting.

Going on a Gemba walk is an opportunity to capture topics and concerns pertaining to how effective your facility (factory or office) is performing from a shop-floor perspective. This is a little different from what you get from your daily review of performance metrics.

So you’ve just completed your Gemba walk. What do you do now? For starters, ask the following questions: Where did your walk take you and what did you see? Whom did you talk with and what did you hear? These are fundamental questions you should ask yourself when you have completed your Gemba walk. A Gemba walk that ends once the walk is over is like a meeting that yields no actions on the topic discussed. Why did the meeting take place at all – thus why did I just go on this walk? To insure you get the most out of your Gemba walk, make sure you have a good process for preparation and execution. Just as important is having a good post-walk, follow-up process.

In preparation and execution of a Gemba walk:

  • Have a theme or topic for your Gemba walk, however avoid preparing specific questions before hand.
  • Depending on the size of your factory, have a planned route.
  • Be on the lookout for waste and seek input from people in Gemba.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Write down what you see and hear, and note whom you talk to.

Post-Gemba walk, follow-up process:

    • Afterwards, spend some time reflecting and capture key takeaways from your time at Gemba.
      • Think Value vs. Non-Value (Waste).
    • Take time to categorize your thoughts, findings and discussion points.
    • Use Pareto and/or trend charts for evaluation as you continue your walks over time.
      • Types of Waste encountered (the 8 wastes of lean manufacturing).
        1. Over Production
        2. Over Processing
        3. Too Much Inventory
        4. Defects / Re-Work
        5. Waiting / Delays
        6. Transporting
        7. Motion
        8. Loss of creativity
      • Discussion themes of topics employees discuss with you.
      • Keep track of how many people you actually made contact with.
    • Use this information with your leadership team as part of your continuous improvement process.
    • Provide feedback to employees on your walks in simple weekly or monthly communications.
    • Follow up with any individuals that offered key insight or asked questions that you needed more time to answer.

A robust post-walk, follow-up process closes the loop for an effective Gemba walk and provides meaningful actions that will lead to a better Gemba.

Bill Kirkpatrick is a Senior Lean Subject Matter Expert with Life Cycle Engineering (LCE). Bill helps clients enhance performance by driving continuous improvement using Lean / Six Sigma techniques. Over 25 years, Bill has played a leading role in transformation through engineering, continuous improvement and operational excellence in various industries including HVAC, metals fabrication, mining and construction equipment, automotive and aerospace.You can reach Bill at [email protected] .

© Life Cycle Engineering


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