When we step into the Lean world, it’s inevitable to bump into a bunch of Japanese words that may seem weird at first glance. Don’t worry, they stand for different concepts, practices and tools of Lean Management that help professionals to better guide their actions on a daily basis. If you want to learn more about Lean first, check out our Beginner’s Guide and our Lean Glossary.
One of the most common, relevant and essential terms in Lean is Gemba. This Japanese word can be translated as the actual place or the place where things happen. It can take shape in a lot of contexts, such as the office in an accounting company, the kitchen in a restaurant or the shop floor of a factory. This is the place where value is generated regardless of the business we’re talking about. Be prepared to walk through the Gemba after reading this article.
The most valuable place in any company
Probably, you’ve walked through the Gemba before, or you might even work inside it. Whatever the case, going to the Gemba has to be something natural for any professional that has Lean as their major work philosophy. After all, this is where actions that generate value take place (whatever these actions may be).
When you have a deeper engagement with the employees involved at the Gemba you begin to fully understand the root causes of many problems that may be occurring within the company. In Lean terms, you really shouldn’t be sitting on your chair all day, but instead, talking to the ones affected by the processes of the company.
By examining the flow of the process in the actual place it’s possible to see how the process works ordinarily, what happens when obstacles show in the way, what types of issues happen and how they’re resolved. Also, the difference between what’s written on paper and what really happens at the Gemba becomes crystal clear.
That’s why it’s so crucial to do a Gemba Walk. This is the proper action of going to the place where value is created to talk to the people, understand their work up close, ask questions and learn from their daily struggles—always showing respect (that’s essential in any Gemba Walk). Keep in mind that this is a chance for managers and leaders to break away from their routines to identify wasteful activities and opportunities for improvement.
Stretch your legs and let’s have a Gemba Walk
By comprehending the value stream and its possible bottlenecks, any improvement is much more accurate. Analyses from afar will likely result in misconceptions or will deliver shallow conclusions. To help you ask the right questions to your peers, take a look at the examples:
- What are you doing? Why do you do it this way?
- What challenges do you face on a daily basis?
- What can or can’t you resolve in your role?
- What tools do you use to manage tasks?
- Who do you talk to when facing trouble?
- What do you do when things go wrong?
- What kind of wastes do you see here?
Of course, these questions will change according to the context and operation to be analyzed (though this is a good start for a Gemba Walk). But before you begin the walk itself, know that you should keep an eye on the processes and not evaluate the people, but their tasks.
It is desirable to take a diverse team with you during the walk to have different insights and ideas. Also, validate any assumptions that you may have with the people in the process—do not rely on guesses. Check out this quick script of how to perform a proper Gemba Walk:
Once you finish, it’s time to follow-up your notes. Make sure you jot down everything exposed in the walk to analyze afterwards, like problems to solve and tasks to be completed. Keep in mind that the goal here is to boost the whole process, make it easier, safer, more clever and faster (in an essence, better).
Gemba Walks provide better communication between teams and bring positive changes for the organization as a whole. Truth be told, this is a simple yet effective activity because by visiting the Gemba it’s possible to reach a reliable diagnosis of the process. After that, Lean concepts and tools, such as the Value Stream Mapping and A3, will help you find solutions for the problems detected in theses walks and talks.
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True improvements can only be made when everyone is on the same page, especially if we’re talking about cultural changes and not just minor updates in some processes. That’s Kaizen, the continuous improvement philosophy that focuses on the big picture and not just on one specific thing, something that is deeply related within the Lean mindset.
By acknowledging the problems up close, you will not only create greater engagement with everyone by hearing their ideas, but you’ll also transform the Gemba in the most efficient place of the company.