Gemba Walks - a tool for managers
Tim MacMahon quotes a phrase often heard in management: "The further a manager moves away from the place where the actual work is done, the less effectively he or she can support his or her team. This may be true for many managers and industries. If you think about it, it's only logical that an executive who has no idea what his or her subordinates are actually doing can't be a good executive. Reality shows, however, that most operational executives (e.g., department heads in higher positions) have to face a multitude of different tasks every day that are not necessarily related to their employees' day-to-day business. Very few of them actually have time to look at what is happening in detail at the lower levels daily or even weekly. At the level at which the products are actually created, managers can hardly be found. In addition, many managers have not necessarily chosen the path from production to management level, but have entered management directly from university. So they don't even know how, for example, to act efficiently as managers in actual production. They don't know who they are talking to and what they could actually monitor.
So what's Gemba?
This is where Gemba comes in. The so-called Gemba Walk is a strategy or approach that allows executives to leave their offices and go to places where critical production tasks are performed. Gemba Walks are designed to teach department heads and managers what to look out for when they go into production and look at operational processes. How can you tell whether time or resources are being wasted in one place? What are indicators of good or bad processes? How do you recognize the need for improvement? The term Gemba comes from Japanese and means "the real place" or "the place where something arises". Gemba is therefore the crux of every process and every company, and that is exactly where managers should be able to come and see.
Tim MacMahon explains in his article that his approach to understanding Gemba is to visualize what Gemba is not. Those who understand this can usually imagine what Gemba should be and how to do their Gemba walks. A Gemba Walk should not be accidental and unplanned. Do not visit your production or your teams unannounced. You may hope to catch one or the other employee standing around unproductively.
But that's not what Gemba Walks is about. Gemba Walks aren't supposed to be a staff meeting to explain what they're doing and why. A Gemba Walk must be planned in advance. Structure your visit to the production site and think tanks with the help of someone who knows "down there". Choose a specific zone, each time a different one. And then use your visit to actually understand what the procedures are, what is being done there, and how each step is being done. Talk to the different people who are doing or monitoring these steps. Try to go into more detail than you should for your job and try to take something from the Gemba Walk to the top.
Little by little you will then be able to create an ideal picture of the processes and work together with the employees to create ideal conditions for ideal production step by step. Only those who have a complete understanding of a process and have seen how it actually runs in day-to-day business can recognize weaknesses and possibly make suggestions for improvement. Only those who can imagine an ideal order are able to recognize disorder. If you already have a little experience with Gemba Walks, you can plan your future Gemba Walks in such a way that a specific goal is on the agenda. This goal can be to learn something yourself or to teach something.
Studies have shown that the vast majority of workers and team members appreciate the fact that the management can be seen from time to time and shows genuine interest in processes and the actual work. Many workers are also willing to share their own ideas, suggestions for improvement and actively participate in the improvement process. Tim MacMahon advises every manager to turn Gemba Walks into a routine and actively use this tool because he is convinced of its benefits.
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