AME Chairman, Western Sensei Consulting, Inc.-president, www.westernsensei.com
In my last article, Senior Leaders at the Gemba, I encouraged leaders who are somewhat uncomfortable with going to the gemba to simply take the opportunity to visit the gemba and listen to people. It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate humility, learn more about the operations, discover some of the problems that the team members encounter in their work day, build relationships, earn the trust of the team members, and be a learner – not a knower. Once you are comfortable with going to the gemba, I would recommend that you establish more structured processes for your gemba visits. In my experience, there are basically three types of gemba visits:
1. Leadership Gemba Visits – These are similar to what I discussed in the first article. The focus is on the culture, developing trust, learning more about the operations, and finding ways to improve the working conditions of the team members. These gemba visits are typically conducted by managers and executives (individually or in pairs). They don’t usually have an agenda or follow a prescribed process. The leader simply goes to the gemba to engage with the team members in a meaningful way and searches for opportunities to make their work less frustrating and more fulfilling.
2. Leader Standard Work Gemba Walks – These gemba walks typically have an agenda or a theme and occur on a regular cadence. These are structured and can be done individually or in groups. Many management teams have standard processes for visiting team huddles, checking hour-by-hour charts, doing 5S audits, or doing safety observations. Others visit the gemba with a specific theme in mind for the walk, such as reviewing autonomous maintenance practices, learning about kaizen activities, discussing safety procedures, reviewing visual management practices, doing Toyota kata coaching, using Kamishibai cards and others. These gemba walks often have standard work associated with them and are a very important part of the leaders’ day.
3. Problem Solving Gemba Visits – Typically, the purpose of a problem solving gemba visit is to go to the source of a problem in order to observe it first-hand, talk to those closest to the problem, and determine if countermeasures are needed while working to determine the root cause of the problem. This is also a great opportunity for leaders to talk to team members about the problem solving process and root cause analysis.
While there are many different ways that leaders practice gemba walks, the most essential point is that leaders should be spending a relatively considerable amount of their time at the gemba. Typically, in cultures where the leaders routinely visit the gemba there are fewer meetings, less rework associated with ineffective countermeasures, a higher level of team member engagement, and better business results. So, genchi genbutsu – in other words, gets your boots on and “go see for yourself” what’s going on at your gemba.