When it comes to doing what’s called a “gemba walk,” what you do and how you do it is an important factor.
There are many things you can do wrong—especially if other management styles creep into your gemba. So to start, let’s be clear and upfront about a few things.
Gemba is not:
- An opportunity for fault finding.
- A time to enforce policy.
- A time to fix problems or make changes.
Instead, gemba is primarily for two things:
That being said, there are plenty of recommended actions you can take while going to the gemba. In this post we will cover six of them. And if you pay close attention, there are some free worksheets to aid you on your gemba that are available for download throughout the post and at the end.
1. Use an Eight Wastes Checklist
One of the first things you should be observing and reflecting about is waste in the workplace. We’re talking about the Big 8 wastes of DOWNTIME (or TIMWOODS):
- Non-utilized talent
- Extra processing
Take a clipboard and a paper, or the helpful Value Stream & Wastes Worksheet, and take note of wastes that are showing up in your value streams and processes.
2. Follow the Flow
If you’re familiar with the process of waste elimination, you know that the goal is to establish and improve flow of materials and information. When we say “follow the flow,” we’re saying to start at the end of a process or product line and follow it backwards to the beginning. For example, start in final shipping and work your way all the way to receiving/stores.
- Start at the end of a process or product line.
- Follow it backwards to the beginning.
- Along the way, pay attention to the flow of materials and information.
- Look for wastes that backup the flow of materials and information.
- Especially look for the buildup of inventory or work in process (WIP).
- Understand why the flow is hindered and what might be done to improve it.
As you walk the flow, like a fish swimming upstream, you’re looking for resistance to flow in the system. Just like discovering boulders, rocks, bottlenecks, and other river features, you’ll be identifying issues preventing the smooth flow of work through your area.
The reason why you want to go backwards through the system is that it will give you a better grasp of supply, demand, and the internal relationships of customers between operations and departments. Wherever there is a mismatch of supply and demand there will be a buildup of inventory.
When flow is the primary focus of your time, teammates, and resources, a value stream map is a good investment. But your everyday gemba is the wrong place to create your full value stream map. However, what you learn from your gemba can vastly improve the outcomes of a formal value stream map activity.
Our combined Value Stream & Wastes Worksheet is useful for detailing your observations on flow.
3. Sketch Out Workflows
If you are “following the flow” like we recommend, or just paying attention to a particular area, it’s very likely that you’ll want to doodle.
Doodling can seriously help deepen your understanding of a workflow by mapping it out. Of course, you can use formal value stream mapping symbols—but that’s not required. Do what works for gemba.
However, we have included a few commonly-used symbols to jog your memory at the bottom of the Value Stream & Wastes Worksheet just in case you do want to sketch a workflow in value stream style.
Another take on sketching out the workflow is to draw a spaghetti diagram. Don’t underestimate them! They can be very useful and simple analysis tools.
It’s a simple thing to do, but can give you great insights: count!
- Counting any of the following could give you great insights into the real state of things:
- The number of people looking for a tool or material
- The quantity of work in process (WIP) waiting in queue
- The number of footsteps required to get a tool
- The number of items produced in a period of time
- The list goes on…
Count whatever is relevant or intriguing to know. Quantify your environment and consider what you can learn about it.
5. Take a Stopwatch
Similar to counting, take a stopwatch with you. It will allow you to measure process time, value-added time, and wastes with ease.
When it comes to counting and timing, you may want to consider counting/timing the same thing every gemba walk for a period of time in order to sample true conditions.
Quantifying things in person like this over time is also an excellent way to monitor the effects of improvement efforts.
6. Hunt for Bugs
“Hunting for bugs” comes from Michel Baudin‘s mentor Kei Abe. You can find Michel’s blog on lean at this link. The idea of “hunting for bugs” is grab a stack of stickie notes or similar item and go hunting for small maintenance problems and tag them.
Some examples of “bugs” you could find are the following:
- A squeaky wheel
- A frayed cable
- A leaking pipe
- A damaged sign
7. Ask Questions
Asking questions should go without saying, but the point here is to ask questions for the sake of learning, and to save you from the trap of making changes and giving answers on your gemba.
Remember, the goal is to observe, reflect, and ultimately to learn. It is not to teach and transform employees or the workplace. That can come at another time.
Ask people what they are doing and why. Ask them about an observation you have and get their input about how or why it occurs. Be humble and learn.
Also, be careful about getting upset or punishing teammates at the discovery of something you don’t like.
If you want employees to feel safe and confident telling you the truth, then you need to be appreciative when discovering disappointing news.
8. Take Notes
You may have thought about this already, but you should take notes when on your gemba!
There are two good reasons why:
- If you’re taking notes, you’re more likely to be deeply engaged in observation and reflection while on your gemba. Recording your observations and thoughts will keep you sharp and focused.
- Taking notes will help you recognize patterns over time. It can also help substantiate plans for improvement down the road.
Our gemba walk Value Stream & Wastes Worksheet is designed with the intention that it will help you record these notes. It’s a simple one-page document with lots of space for free-form note taking, but it also is designed to help you sketch out processes and evaluate wastes on your gemba walk.
The worksheet is absolutely free by signing up for our mailing list.
Just click the link and you’ll get the worksheet delivered directly to your inbox.