Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho’s words, “Go see, ask why, show respect,” are famous. They are like a creed for lean practitioners around the world. Go to gemba, the place where value is created, where the work is done, is one of the core principles of continuous improvement. Cho’s words are a summary of what going to gemba is. What do those words mean?
The purpose of the gemba walk or observation walk is to understand the work and grasp the current situation. A process has three versions, what should happen, what we think happens, and what actually happens. You will get an understanding of what is happening by observing everything within the area, people, equipment or machine performance, and the work environment. If you notice any gaps or problems, focus your attention on one at a time. These are the things you need to see for yourself.
- What people do, are they following the standards?
- How people spend their time, how is the work environment?
- How people move around the work area
- The workflow, how the product or information flows through.
- Where the flow stops? Watch for interruptions and delays.
- Handoffs between workstations, how the materials, ingredients or information arrives and leaves the station.
Remember that you are there to understand the situation, not to judge. All gemba walkers are there to practice observation and active listening. Focus on the system, quality, cost, and morale. Look for improvement opportunities. Practice respect while asking questions, let the team shine.
Even though Cho’s phrase says, ask why, the first question is what, not why. What is the purpose of this process, what it intends to achieve? Only ask why type questions, which are to diagnose, after you understand the process and the current situation. Ask why there is a gap to the standard, why delays happened, why does rework occur, and others. Listen to the answers to understand the point of view of the people who do the work, keep learning from them. The conversation will lead you to a point where you can ask what if. At this time, you can ask for their ideas, what if you change the method?
Gemba Walks are a powerful tool to promote the continuous improvement culture or a fast way to kill it! In a blame-free culture, your associates will be honest, talk freely about their concerns, and share their ideas without problems. The way you, and your leadership team reacts to comments and concerns, and how diligently you are to facilitate their work and solve their problems will determine how successful these walks are. As a system, gemba walks supports the scientific method (PDCA) because it is based on actual observation.