Duke left a great question as a comment to “A Morning Market.” He asked:
What’s the key differences between the [morning] market meeting and a gemba walk? Maybe I should ask what is the purpose of a gemba walk?
I’ll start with one of my (other) favorite quotes from an old friend, Dave:
“It isn’t about shaking hands and kissing babies.”
That is to say, a lot of leaders think that heading out to the work area to “show the flag,” and do a meet-and-greet with the team members is “walking the gemba.” While they may be at the gemba, and they may actually be walking around, this isn’t it.
Walking the gemba is part of “Check” in Plan-Do-Check-Act. It is the process of carefully observing to see where things are not as they should be. Sometimes there is less walking involved, and more just standing and watching.
This, of course, begs the question: Watching for what? This, ultimately, is what makes it different than even just walking around looking.
Try this exercise. Go to some place where any activity is taking place. It really doesn’t matter what. If you aren’t in a factory, just go watch someone doing data entry or computer work. Watch the receptionist process walk-in customers and phone calls.
Note: Whatever you choose, please talk to people and tell them what you are doing, otherwise this is going to seem creepy to them if they aren’t used to it.
Get a feel for what is happening. More importantly, try to envision what is supposed to be happening. If this process were going perfectly, how would it look? Try hard to visualize in your mind a smooth, totally value-adding work flow.
Now, as you watch, become totally conscious of what is really happening. Why is this process other than how you visualized it? What disrupts the work? Where could mistakes be made? What keeps those mistakes from being made? Is it just vigilance? Or is there some mechanism to either prevent the mistake or either cue the person on the correct way, or alert them on the incorrect?
Is there any backtracking, rework, looping around? Are things where they are actually needed? Do people have to look around for things?
How do they know what they should be doing? What is their source of information? Do they have to hunt it down, or worse, guess at what should be done? Or is the “right thing” and the “right way” chrystal clear to even the casual observer (that would be you).
Is there a pace to the work? Even if it isn’t traditional takt-time work (especially if it isn’t), there is some kind of deadline. How does the person know whether things are on time or not? When do they learn they are behind?
If the person encounters some kind of problem, something unexpected, something needed but not there, what happens? Is there a support system to get this person back on-process? Or is he or she left to their own devices to just figure it out?
As you watch, keep your standard very high. If something is not obviously as it should be, then question whether it is. “Control” has the burden of proof here, not chaos.
When you see these things, focus in on one of them. Ask yourself “Why?” does this condition exist? Where does the problem originate? Go there. Study some more. How is it that this process fails to support its customer? Do they have a clear understanding of what is expected? (Probably not, most don’t, especially administrative processes.) How do they know they delivered (or didn’t) what their customer required? Did they think their output was defect free (according to their standards), but was really causing problems for their customer?
Often it helps to look at one person doing a single task, find a single issue, and follow the trap line upstream until you arrive at the origin of the problem. Often, again, you will have a fixable root cause right in front of you.
Now the fun begins. As a leader, it is not your job to fix the problem. That is not what you are looking for.
When you walk the gemba, you are assessing how well your organization is tuned to seeing these issues, clearing them, finding their causes, and solving them. If you see these opportunities, then your job now is to teach.
Grab whoever it is whose responsibility bounds both the effect and the origin of the problem. Guide him through the same things. If this issue was unaddressed, there are a couple of problems this leader must address.
First, there is someone downstream likely coping with an issue that he should be raising. (Or worse, there is no process for raising the issue, or worse still, no process to respond if he does.) If that isn’t happening, help this leader understand that this is the shortfall here, not the actual issue. It is now his turn to teach, in turn, either the Team Member, or whatever leader is between him and the Team Member.
Second, upstream, there is a process which either does not understand what “defect free” is, or does not have (or does not use) a positive way to verify it before sending it along. Same issue. This is a leader training process until the education reaches the level that should be doing the checks and the verifications.
The best way to learn how to do this is to walk your flow with someone who has the skill. It is simply a skill, and it can be taught. But learning also requires some humility, and the student must bring that to the “classroom.”
So, to recap in two short statements.
- The gemba walk is a “Check” of Plan-Do-Check-Act.
- You are checking the health of your leadership systems by looking at how they engage their people and processes.
Walking the gemba is a process of developing your people.