The Gemba Walk

‘Management by Walking About’ is an accepted way of undertaking a kind of audit or check-up on how things actually happen – as distinct from how they are expected to happen. (The concept of Gemba is part of Lean – and implies that managers should always find out for themselves what is going on – rather than trusting what they are told. The practise of ‘going to Gemba’ means uncovering the truth by visitng the actual place where things happen and uncovering the actual truth.) The Gemba Walk takes ‘management by walking about’ quite a bit further by imposing a particular structure on the walk – ensuring that no details are missed. It is usually a part of an overall approach to implementing Lean concepts and techniques … and Gemba walks should start to take place once Lean techniques have been used to drive performance improvements. They are part of the process of validating that positive change has resulted from the Lean programme. The key elements of a Gemba walk are, not surprisingly, observing and listening – to supervisors in particular but also to operators. In a well-run factory, this gives the supervisors an opportunity to show pride in their own accomplishments … and to understand that their boss is taking an interest in what they do and how they run their (perhaps) small par of the operation. Obviously walking the factory (or warehouse or office or hospital or whatever) too often simply looking for ‘things’ could be meaningless (except for showing interest) so a Gemba walk would normally have a specific theme – waste, quality, performance, etc. The supervisors are questioned on this theme and the ‘walker’ (the manager) simply listens attentively and asks searching questions. He/she should share what they learn – so that the supervisors get some immediate feedback (and so they know that this is a real exercise). The manager should then prepare a brief feedback report which is made widely available so that the part of the operation visited – and others – can learn about good … and bad … practice. A date should then be set when any control actions are to be completed .. and when a follow-up visit should be made to verify that these actions are, indeed, completed.


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