Sunday, February 8, 2009

Go To Gemba!

In the past few posts I have discussed several continuous improvement methodologies. However, it is human nature to return to the original, less productive process unless the new behavior is reinforced and becomes engrained in their business culture. One management system that is required to maintain the improvements that you have worked so diligently to implement is a gemba walk. 


Gemba is a Japanese term that means loosely, where the work is taking place. I was once told by my Sensei that the Japanese police refer to the scene of the crime as gemba.  A gemba walk is a management technique that has the leader walk a prescribed pattern that follows the flow through their area of responsibility.  It requires the leader to actually go where the work is accomplished to see and understand first hand the current state of their business.


The gemba route should be documented with a map on a standard work document including a listing of the items within each area that are checked.  Documenting the gemba walk is a critical component that is often over looked.  Documentation ensures consistency and allows for a transfer of knowledge when the responsible leader is not available to complete their routine. In the ideal situation the gemba walk will occur at the same time(s) every day. 


As the leader walks the prescribed route, they look for and make note of safety issues, compliance with standards, and disruptions to flow.  In addition, the leader should use the gemba walk as an opportunity to reinforce to the staff what is important to the business. When the leader notes an issue, they should ask questions to the staff, which, in turn helps them, discover for themselves why the issue needs to be addressed.


How often should a leader perform their gemba walk?  The answer is simple and varies by situation. It could be once a day, it could be twice a day, and it could be more. Leaders need to complete their gemba walk as often as is necessary to understand the current state of their business.


A gemba walk is the formalized equivalent of MBWA  (Management By Walking Around).  Many leaders walk the workplace daily as a matter of practice. A gemba walk simply formalizes and documents their daily walk.  It is irrelevant if you call the gemba walk by the Japanese term or some term you have created locally. The important issue is that the practice is formalized, documented, and occurs at the prescribed frequency.


Post Author: Royce Williard

Copyright 2009, The Williard Group

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