As a lean leader, you recognise that the vast majority of the value generated by your organisation is by the people with their hands on the product and their ears closest to your clients and customers. While leading through example and finding creative solutions to problems is part of your role as a leader, it is just as important for you to get out of your office and go to the gemba – the place where things are really happening in your workplace.
The translation of the term from the root Japanese word is “the real place.” It also is known as “the place where value is created.” The Gemba walk technique involves leaders or managers going to the physical place where work gets done and observing and identify possibilities for improvement. Only after the walk is complete and a period of reflection has occurred are changes implemented.
Gemba walks are normally informal, casual opportunities for leaders to get a sense of what’s really happening in the powerhouses of your organisation. Research shows that championing of ideas from the executive level is a key component of practicing continuous improvement. However, executives cannot fully support initiatives wholeheartedly if they don’t understand the problems and mechanics behind them.
The Gemba walk technique offers leaders a chance to observe the difference between what they assume is happening day-to-day, and what is actually happening. It also gives them a chance to interact with their team members while they are doing the job, as opposed to only getting updates in scheduled meetings.
While the Gemba walk is a powerful technique for getting to the source of work, it is important to remember a few key ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’t’s’ regarding a Gemba walk:
- Focus on observation
- Perform each walk with an open mind
- Keep it loose – walk at different times of the day
- Point out faults to team members while on a walk
- Try to implement change on the spot before reflection
- Discredit or disregard a team member’s input
The main idea behind Gemba walks is that team members on the front lines of any workplace are the ones most equipped to recognise ways to incorporate continuous improvement into their roles, since they’re the ones doing the work. The face-to-face time that comes from Gemba walks sends the message that leadership is interested in how these ideas for improvement can be integrated into the daily functioning of the workplace. By getting out of your office and talking to people on the front lines, you show your own dedication to rapid continuous improvement, which gives others the sense that they too can prioritise this work.