In the world of efficient and effective management, one philosophy has stood the test of time – Gemba. Derived from a Japanese term meaning ‘the real place’ or ‘the place where value is created,’ Gemba is a fundamental component of Lean Management. In this article, we will dive deep into the concept of Gemba, exploring its origins, principles, and the many industries it has transformed.
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What is a Gemba Walk?
A Gemba walk, often pronounced with a hard “G” as “Gamba Walk,” is the practice of physically visiting the place where the actual work happens. For manufacturers, this means stepping onto the factory floor. The core idea is rooted in the Japanese philosophy of “genchi genbutsu,” which translates to “go and see.” It’s all about understanding, observing, and improving processes to foster a culture of continuous improvement.
A Historical Perspective
The concept of Gemba was popularized by Taiichi Ohno, one of the masterminds behind Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing system. It was here that the famous words “Go see, Ask why, and Show respect” were first uttered. In recent years, Gemba walks have gained popularity across various industries, offering valuable insights into operations and supply chains.
The 3 Basic Rules of Gemba
To make a Gemba walk truly effective, it must adhere to three essential rules, as laid out by Toyota’s former chairman, Fujio Cho:
1. Go See
The first rule is simple but crucial. To align processes with a company’s objectives, one must witness them firsthand. This means leaving the comfort of the office and heading to the shop floor. Seeing is believing, and it’s essential for gauging process alignment.
2. Ask Why
Understanding the intricacies of each step in the manufacturing process is vital. Many routine tasks are performed without questioning their necessity or efficiency. Asking “why” helps identify areas where improvements can be made.
3. Show Respect
Perhaps the most important rule, Gemba walks should communicate genuine concern for employees’ well-being. Workers need to understand that these walks are aimed at making their work easier, not critiquing their performance.
Gemba Walk Across Industries
While initially developed for manufacturing, Gemba has transcended industry boundaries. It’s now applied in various sectors, including customer service, marketing, and software engineering. The essence of Gemba lies in bridging the gap between different hierarchical layers within an organization, fostering transparency and trust.
Gemba in Popular Culture
You might be familiar with the TV series “Undercover Boss.” Interestingly, it draws inspiration from the Gemba concept. In the show, CEOs go undercover as frontline employees to gain firsthand insights and ideas for process improvements.
Steps to Establish an Effective Gemba Walk
To ensure a successful Gemba walk, follow these key steps:
1. Prepare Your Team / Get Trained on Gemba Walk
Both managers and team leaders should receive proper training. Employees should understand that the walk aims to observe and improve processes, not evaluate their performance. Transparent and detailed answers are encouraged.
2. Set clear Objectives / Plan Your Walk
Gemba walks must have a clear objective and related Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Proactive questioning, based on the “5 Ws” (Who, What, When, Where, and Why), is essential. Technology, such as the Gemba-Walk.com app, can streamline data collection and analysis.
3. Focus on key ideas / process improvements
Encourage employees to share their ideas for process improvement. The frontline staff often has unique insights. Emphasize the value stream to identify areas of improvement, especially in handoffs between departments.
4. Structure Your Collected Ideas / Data
A Gemba walk generates a lot of data. Use technology to log observations and automatically structure information. This not only saves time but also reduces paper usage and lowers the risk of work accidents.
5. Walk in Teams (involve employees)
Consider involving employees from different departments for fresh perspectives. Diverse viewpoints can uncover issues and opportunities for improvement that might otherwise go unnoticed.
6. Change the Schedule
Vary the timing of Gemba walks to gain a comprehensive understanding of processes. Different times of day and days of the week can reveal unique insights.
7. Communicate ‘the change’
Before implementing changes, communicate findings with team members. Assign improvement projects and ensure a smooth transition.
8. Measure KPIs
After implementing improvements, track performance and measure KPIs to assess the impact of changes. Regular Gemba walks help monitor progress.
How Gemba Walks Can Be Used Virtually
In today’s digital age, it’s essential to adapt traditional practices to virtual settings. Gemba walks can also be conducted virtually, ensuring that the principles of ‘go and see,’ ‘ask why,’ and ‘show respect’ are maintained.
Virtual Gemba walks involve the use of video conferencing and collaborative software. Team members from different locations can participate, sharing their work processes and environments through video calls. This approach allows for real-time observation and interaction, even when physical presence is not possible.
To conduct a virtual Gemba walk effectively:
- Utilize video conferencing tools for live streaming.
- Encourage team members to provide virtual tours of their workspaces.
- Ask questions and seek clarifications as you would during an in-person walk.
- Show respect by actively listening to employees and acknowledging their contributions.
Virtual Gemba walks are particularly beneficial for remote teams and global organizations, enabling them to maintain the spirit of Gemba despite geographical distances.
Benefits of Gemba Walks
Implementing Gemba walks yields numerous benefits for businesses:
- Strategic decision-making based on valuable insights: Gemba walks inform strategic decisions with real-world data.
- Closer collaboration between teams and stakeholders: Gemba fosters cross-team collaboration and alignment.
- Improved communication at all organizational levels: Gemba opens up communication channels across the organization.
- Enhanced employee morale and well-being: Gemba shows respect for employees, boosting morale.
- Detection of both disruptive and positive innovations: Gemba uncovers inefficiencies and innovative practices.
- Streamlined operations, saving time and money: Gemba optimizes operations, reducing costs and time.
- Identification of opportunities for improvement: Gemba pinpoints areas for ongoing enhancement.
- Improved facility safety: Gemba enhances safety by identifying and addressing hazards.
- Standardization of processes: Gemba encourages consistent, efficient practices.
- Cultivation of a culture of continuous improvement: Gemba instills a culture of ongoing progress and growth.
Implementing Gemba in Your Workplace
If you’re considering implementing regular Gemba walks in your workplace, consult breakfree consulting for simple and effectives ways to get it incorporated into your organisation. They will help draw a customised plan leveraging tools that helps plan walks, gather detailed information, structure data, and create reports for KPI analysis. Feel free to connect for more information.
Service Industry Examples
1. Customer Service Center
In a customer service center, Gemba can be applied by having managers and team leaders physically or virtually visit the floor where customer service representatives work. During these visits, they can:
- Observe live customer interactions to understand common issues and challenges.
- Ask representatives why certain processes are followed and whether they could be improved for better customer satisfaction.
- Show respect for the frontline employees by actively engaging with them and acknowledging their contributions to customer support.
Virtual Gemba walks can also be conducted by using screen sharing to view customer interactions in real-time and engaging in discussions with customer service agents. This allows for immediate insights into customer concerns and service quality.
2. Restaurant Operations
In a restaurant, Gemba can be applied by having managers and chefs conduct Gemba walks in the kitchen and dining areas. They can:
- Physically visit the kitchen during peak hours to observe the food preparation process, identify bottlenecks, and ensure quality standards are met.
- Ask kitchen staff about their daily challenges and suggestions for process improvements.
- Show respect for the kitchen staff’s hard work and dedication to maintaining food quality and safety.
For virtual Gemba walks, restaurant managers can use cameras to observe kitchen operations and engage in discussions with the chefs and kitchen staff. This ensures that food quality and safety are maintained, even when physical presence is not possible.
3. Hotel Guest Services
In the hotel industry, Gemba can be applied by having managers and supervisors visit various guest service areas such as the front desk, housekeeping, and concierge. During Gemba walks, they can:
- Observe the check-in and check-out process to identify potential bottlenecks and areas for improvement.
- Ask guest service staff about their interactions with guests and gather feedback on guest preferences.
- Show respect for the hard work of the staff in ensuring a pleasant guest experience.
Virtual Gemba walks can be conducted through video conferencing to observe guest interactions and service delivery. This allows managers to maintain a connection with the guest service teams, even when they are located remotely.
In conclusion, Gemba is not just a management philosophy; it’s a way to create real change within an organization. By embracing the principles of “go and see,” asking why, and showing respect, companies can unlock the potential for continuous improvement across various industries. Gemba walks, whether in person or virtual, bring teams closer, foster innovation, and pave the way for a brighter future in business.
- What is the origin of the term “Gemba”? The term “Gemba” is of Japanese origin and means ‘the real place’ or ‘the place where value is created.’ It is a fundamental concept in Lean Management.
- How can Gemba walks benefit my business? Gemba walks offer insights into operations, improve communication, enhance employee morale, and identify opportunities for improvement, among other benefits.
- Is Gemba limited to the manufacturing industry? No, Gemba has been successfully applied in various industries, including customer service, marketing, and software engineering, to improve processes and foster collaboration.
- What are the three basic rules of Gemba? The three fundamental rules of Gemba are: Go see, Ask why, and Show respect. These rules guide effective Gemba walks and foster a culture of continuous improvement.
- How can technology aid in Gemba walks? Technology, such as the Gemba-Walk.com app, can streamline data collection, analysis, and reporting, making Gemba walks more efficient and data-driven.
- How can Gemba walks be conducted virtually? Virtual Gemba walks involve the use of video conferencing and collaborative software to observe work processes and environments remotely. This approach is particularly beneficial for remote teams and global organizations.