An effective “Lean Tool” practiced by many organizations who are pursuing continuous improvement and performance excellence is the modern practice of “Gemba Walk”, which many confused with the classical management style of MBWA (Management By Walking Around). The purpose of the MBWA exercise is to show that you are genuinely interested in employees and their work and are out on the floor listening to suggestions and concerns, while Gemba Walk is designed to allow leaders to identify existing safety hazards, observe machinery and equipment conditions, ask about the practiced standards, gain knowledge about the work status and build relationships with employees.
The word “Gemba” is a Japanese term meaning the real place where value is created and the actual work is done, i.e. the shop floor in a manufacturing plant, and the aim of Gemba Walk is to provide a leader with the opportunity to observe floor activities as they happen and ask questions about them, thus becoming more aware of what is going on in the organization. As part of the Kaizen philosophy, managers are encouraged to “Go, See, and Observe” (Genchi Genbutsu) the work processes for themselves at Gemba in order to gain a better understanding of their operations. Masaaki Imai, a Lean guru, in his book titled “Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense Low-cost Approach to Management,” states “The worst thing a manager can do is live in a world isolated from Gemba.”
When doing the Gemba Walk, you should look for answers to the following questions:
- Is the working environment safe and Lean? Is the 5S system in place being sustained?
- Is there a Visual Management System in place? Are the problems visible?
- Are the required information, measures, and metrics displayed and updated? Are there any Standardized Work Sheets (SWS) posted?
- Could you easily identify the state of progress? Is the work ahead or behind schedule? Is there an efficient level of Work-In-Process (WIP) and Finished-Goods (FG) materials available?
- How are the products and processes developed? What fulfillment systems are in place from order to delivery?
- Is the machinery and equipment running and in good condition? Do you see any leakage or damage? Do you hear any abnormal noise?
Gemba Walk will also provide the opportunity to build stronger relationships with team members through engaging them in conversation about the work processes and praising them for jobs well done. This will create a better sense of ownership in team members, due to their being asked about their understanding of the work standards and how those could be improved upon and made more efficient.
As can be seen, Gemba Walk is an important Lean tool that should be used routinely to help you become aware of any existing abnormalities, immediately deal with hazardous and unsafe conditions, verify established standardized processes, solve problems or correct errors and create a more efficient and effective working environment and workforce.
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