Five good reasons to gemba walk

1. See what changed

Manufacturing shop floor or administrative processes are like gardens: things develop by themselves, not always the way it was expected.

If you have a garden or even a pot with a plant, you may have experienced that regardless to the effort you pay to grow something, it does not always grow the way you expected or something else grew instead.

It is the same in operations, despite procedures, rules and reports, what was intended often develops in some deviant way or does not develop at all. It is like discovering weeds that grew stealthy while expecting the desired flowers or vegetables to bloom.

Just as some weeds can grow overnight, some small deviations can affect processes. Only by frequent visits can these deviations be noticed before they develop into a major problem.

Staff on the shop floor and directly involved may not notice such deviations. They may lay out of staff focus or are often “solutions” to bypass difficulties or problems. In the second case, staff took a decision without full knowledge or without assessing all the possible negative side effects.

A manager in his gemba walk may notice the deviation and with his broader point of view, understand the potential trouble.

It is not that a manager / executive has an inborn ability to see such things, but having lesser detailed knowledge than shop floor’s subject matter experts, he/she may wonder and ask about things staff involved do not pay attention to any longer. Most often, deviations are discovered because someone asked a question about an odd thing he/she could not understand.

If the gemba walk is not frequent enough, the deviation may remain unnoticed long enough to develop as a real problem, while frequent tours may help sighting such potential problem before they actually become one.

Like a frequent visited garden is better tended than one which looks neglected with all the weeds that grew high and strong amidst the flowers, processes and shop floors reflect the attention management pays.

2. Stay connected

Managers and executives are not expected to know every detail of operations, yet frequent gemba walks help them to keep knowledgeable about most important things and keep an overview.

I feel embarrassed for a manager each time he/she must ask someone else to get the answer to my (consultant) questions. The questions I ask are related to the persons’ position. If they cannot answer it’s because most of the time they’re not connected.

Of course this is an evidence of some management flaw and a good reason to dig deeper in my assessments.

Sometimes the span of responsibility is so wide that a single person cannot be knowledgeable and the question is obviously for another staff member. Most of the time though, the manager cannot answer because of his/her disconnect with operations.

A periodical gemba walk maintains the link and keeps manager connected with the reality, even so not in the nitty-gritty details.

3. Make sure staff follows you

Management too often issue their instructions during a short meeting or via mail, procedure and take for granted the staff will carry out the instructions like a disciplined line of command in the army.

Alas, employees seldom stick to this old fashioned way of working and “orders” are not automatically carried out, or not exactly the way it was expected.

Remaining cut off with the staff in a remote office can lead to some nasty surprises when objectives are not achieved and no in-between check was performed.

>Read my Tales from the Pyramid post series about this

Staff may also not follow the instructions because of some misunderstanding.

In any case, a gemba walk can make sure staff follows instructions properly and timely.

4. Walk the talk

Almost all managers are good about the talk. They’re used to present the way processes work, how operations are carried out and how value is flowing. But most of the time managers repeat what procedures and quality system require.

It happens that the walk after the talk shows a different story and when it happens, it’s embarrassing for management. Nobody believes the too often heard excuse: “usually it’s not like this”. It only adds to the poor impression and the embarrassment.

Periodical gemba walks help managers for the talk and identify what to improve so that the walking the talk reflects the reality.

5. Pay respect

A gemba walk is not (only) an inspection tour. It is a way to show interest to people carrying out the tasks necessary to company’s success. Those in turn are usually proud about their achievements and like to see management caring about them.

A gemba walk is an opportunity to check if everything needed for their job is available, usable, etc. as the resources there are important for company’s success.

A gemba walk is also an opportunity to show the lower level staff they are important.

A sincere good morning can make a person’s day. Asking a question about a process step and true listening can make a person proud to explain the ins-and-outs and motivate him/her.

Conclusion

Management is easily trapped in the ivory tower. Many decisions and problems to solve are brought to its remote place and if managers do not pay attention, they get disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday shop floor life.

A periodical – short – gemba walk is a good preventive action with many positive side effects.

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