What is a Gemba Walk?
Many Western businesses are adopting a Japanese workplace philosophy known as a gemba walk in order to eliminate waste while also improving their overall business philosophy and morale. Although this is a concept with which many are unfamiliar, it’s a simplistic process that may truly help your business thrive.
“Gemba” is a Japanese word that means the “real place.” In essence, the idea of a walk in the real place is much more a business philosophy, which evokes “genchi genbutsu,” a Japanese term meaning “the real thing.” Simply put, most bosses handle their floor production through conference room decrees and in hiring floor managers and specialists, the idea here being that you’re paying someone to do this sort of work. In Japan, when the manufacturing was suffering at the Toyota plant, businessman and industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno decided to create a business philosophy in the 1990s known as lean manufacturing.
Ohno’s workplace philosophy was implemented, including the gemba walk. The Six Sigma and lean manufacturing philosophy were also part of the entire approach. In the simplest of terms, it really just means that you, as the owner/manager, have to be out there, on the floor, watching production in real time so that you know precisely what’s happening.
The idea behind lean management and Six Sigma is to examine your weak points, your waste, and your redundancies, and you identify these points by walking the floor with a team for in-depth observation.
In other words, you’re not there to be the hall monitor and to scare employees into working extra-fast. You are instead there to view the entire process of production. It’s all about observing and creating a methodology to refine your production process. Ohno was a mechanical engineer, so he understood the scientific method. So, while it may be a Japanese term and an Eastern invention, it’s not a spiritual Eastern principle. It’s rooted in hard science.
The philosophical aspect comes in how you manage your walks and observations. You need to be extremely focused and in tune with your business on every level. Essentially, you want to become part of these business processes, not standing above them, and you want to get a feel for the standard work happening out on that floor. You will also want to go on this walk with someone else so that an extra pair of eyes can help you better see these processes. This isn’t something you will accomplish through a webinar for your employees (though you could take some to help you learn more about lean management). This is a methodology for problem-solving that’s only accomplished by regular gemba walks.
Types of Gemba Walk
With gemba, your team will be prepared. You’ll have extra eyes with you to help you observe. There’s preparation that goes into this on your part. Plant Tours can help you from the startup phase through planning and taking your walks.
Gemba walks fall into different categories. Since being started in the ‘90s, the idea of kaizen, meaning “a change for the better,” has really driven many in the business world to create a wide range of gemba walks. Though while the number could be seven or 117, they all fall into three main categories of walk.
Leadership walks are all about establishing a trusting relationship with the employees on the shop floor. Sure, you’re also learning about the operations and the business processes, but more than that, you don’t have any sort of agenda assigned to the walk. You’re observing, learning, and getting to know your employees and the processes of manufacturing. These walks are excellent for project management.
Standard work walks are more of your scheduled walk, where you do have an agenda. You’re walking to check on sector A or to run a test on sector B, for example. This is a highly structured sort of walk. For you, this has become your “job” in the business now, and it’s all about the principle of kaizen.
Problem-solving walks will be a little more spur of the moment and are taken when you learn of a problem. It’s still a very effective gemba walk. A “problem” in this context doesn’t necessarily have to be serious. Though when dealing with lean management philosophy and Six Sigma, you’re looking to achieve harmony and balance. You can’t have anything out of sorts, even if it is minor, and so this sort of walk takes you to the root of the problem and allows you to carefully observe it.
No matter what other type of walk you hear or read about, it’s going to fall into one of these three main category types.
What Is Gemba Walk in Terms of Manufacturing?
When you’re in the “actual place,” out there on the front line and learning what’s happening, you’re not sitting in some executive suite receiving secondhand information from someone you’ve hired. Your eyes and firsthand experience become the real value stream here, allowing you to create a workplace template to improve your manufacturing. Gemba helps you improve your processes and your KPI (Key Performance Indicators) and to streamline your workflow. Lean manufacturing is all about increasing productivity.
What Are the Advantages of a Gemba Walk?
- Direct Knowledge: You get to see exactly what’s happening in real time, and you get a true feel for how your business is operating. Only this sort of firsthand knowledge provides you with the tools necessary to make that change for the better.
- Trusting Interactions: Another benefit is that you get to build a much stronger relationship with employees, by actually interacting with them regularly. You become much more personable in your position.
- Boosting Morale: Plant Tours will help you understand everything you need to know about gemba walks, including its many themes and various activities that can greatly improve the morale of the entire workforce. Everyone becomes a part of the leadership team with Six Sigma and kaizen.
- Improved Safety: With most manufacturing businesses, even the standard work done can be inherently dangerous. Gemba can definitely help improve your workplace safety overall as you will be paying much closer attention to these daily operations. You will follow up regularly on things and thus prevent many issues.
- Continuous Improvement: The idea with Toyota wasn’t just process improvement for a quarter and revert back. They kept improving, not necessarily with an end goal in sight but rather with a mission to just do better. This is what this Japanese workplace philosophy can help bring to your business.
Why Is It Important in the Workplace?
Your business is a living, breathing organism that needs to be observed on a regular basis in order for you to properly nurture and to grow the sort of product you intend.
By walking your shop floor and going to that “real place,” you’re seeing firsthand in real time how your employees are conducting business. There is no better way to view how things are unfolding. The same holds true for any type of business. Even if you don’t have a manufacturing floor, you still have employees and team members and production that needs to happen. You don’t have to be a car manufacturer like Toyota to appreciate the lean management and Six Sigma principles of Japanese business, whereby you’re out there in person to observe the work process and to correct wasteful activities and anything else that may be slowing your business down.
Plant Tours understands the factory floor and how to increase production. A business operates best when the methodology from management is at its best. If you’re not willing to create a system whereby you’re in tune with the production habits on a daily basis, you are very likely to find your outputs suffering. Regular gemba walks help keep workflow optimized because you’re practicing hands-on management by walking around and observing your business, rather than sitting in some conference room and passing decrees like a politician. Thus, the end result is that you’re able to get a really honest appraisal about what needs to be done, and you can quickly do it.
Many businesses end up eliminating redundancies and improving production after an issue is noticed on some quarterly reports. By then, the losses can be exponential. The lean manufacturing philosophy is in large part about immediately identifying what’s happening on the shop floor so that you get expedient results. It greatly helped the Toyota production system, and it can greatly help most businesses regardless of size.
Business innovators like Taiichi Ohno have shown that kaizen, “a change for the better,” is a forward-thinking business strategy. For more information and assistance at implementing these tools to help improve your business, and for learning how to take an effective gemba walk, Plant Tours is here to help by lending expertise and guidance on the subject.