Gemba: Go to the Front Lines
Do you often feel reactive instead of proactive? Do people complain that decisions at the top take too long to percolate down to the frontlines? If so, you might manage your organization and your reports through weekly meetings and email. You should instead consider a regular Gemba Walk.
In its simplest form, a Gemba Walk is a regular cadence of actions and questions that bring leadership into physical contact with frontline employees. It gets leaders out of their offices and onto the company floor where the actual work is being done.
The Gemba walk is an essential part of the Lean management philosophy. Its initial purpose is to allow managers and leaders to observe the actual work process, engage with employees, gain knowledge about the work process, and explore opportunities for continuous improvement.
The term “Gemba” comes from Japanese, and it means “the real place”. In Lean management, “Gemba” is the most important place for a team as it is the place where the real work happens.
Quite simply, for manufacturers, it’s the factory floor, for salespeople it is the sales call and so on. In other words, it is where the real work happens, so you can observe and analyse it.
The business of the company doesn’t occur in conference rooms; it occurs where employees are creating the products and services your company provides. It’s therefore necessary to “go and see” what’s happening with your own eyes.
Every time when you perform a Gemba walk, you need to prepare a checklist in advance. This list will help you focus and target your efforts.
The checklist has to include questions that will help you understand the process you are going to observe in a better way. Your questions may vary depending on the theme of your Gemba walk.
Some example questions could be,
- What problems have happened recently?
- How do you plan on solving those problems?
- How can I help?
You should also do an assessment of the walk afterwards, reviewing things like,
- What did we learn?
- What do we want to do on the next walk?
- Do we want to make some changes to the process of what is going on?
You should create a posted list of what areas of the organization you’re going to visit and when you’re going to do it. Depending on the time of year or a particular strategic objective you’re working on, you may visit some areas daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Irrespective of the cadence, it must be regular and predictable.
It’s tempting for leaders to complain, “My work life is utterly chaotic and unpredictable. There’s no way that I have time for this kind of schedule.” Remember, though, that a Gemba Walk comprises only a small percentage of your day. And when done consistently, it will reduce the amount of firefighting that you have to do. Modelling this kind of behaviour is the most powerful way to embed it in your culture.
Need help with your first Gemba Walk? Book a call with us and we will meet with you for a complimentary site assessment and Gemba Walk. You can use our knowledge to help your business develop, pivot or improve.