Gemba walks, like any other process, needs a consistent structure or standard. It helps to avoid confusion, clarify the purpose and intent, and provides general steps that facilitate customization for specific situations without losing the essence of what a gemba walk is.
The walks have three stages, which happen before, during, and after the walk. When you coach your team to be walkers with a purpose, you become more effective, learning by doing. The more you practice, the better you become.
Preparation before the Walk
When you plan to go out for a gemba walk, the first thing you need to know is the purpose of the walk and to what area you will go. Each walk needs a purpose or objective, which can be coaching, learn about a specific situation within a process, or looking for improvement opportunities. Show respect for the owners of the area you are going to visit by letting them know in advance what is the purpose of your visit and how they can help. Be honest about your intentions and clear about your expectations. Right before the walk, take five minutes to explain the purpose and expectations of the walk to the team walking with you. Remember that two of the walk benefits are to develop your team and drive alignment within the organization.
During the Walk
While walking, you will go and see, show respect, and ask what, then why. Understand the purpose of work and performance expectations. During the walk, observe if there is any gap between what is supposed to happen and what is happening. Use the scientific process (PDCA) to identify the reasons and find the root cause. As a leader, focus on the process as the source of errors, not the people.
Ask what first, what is the purpose, what are the steps, or what are you trying to accomplish? Asking those questions requires being mindful of how you are asking, not only your tone but your body language as well. You want to show respect, listen to their words, be empathic, and let them feel that you care about their needs and feelings. Make your actions consistent with your words, and do what you said you would do, be trustworthy.
Once you gain an understanding of the situation, you can ask why questions. While trying to gain a deeper understanding, it is appropriate to use the 5 Why technique.
After the Walk
After the walk, take another five minutes to get an understanding of its effectiveness. Listen to the observations and discussion points from the walkers. Clarify any doubts and capture all observation and improvement ideas. Get agreement on what improvements the group will work with and combine them into one list. Create a follow-up plan, who will work with what, and preliminary timeline.
Do your best to stay focused on the agreed purpose of the walk. Lead the walk in such a way that walkers understand that it is more effective if everybody focused on one thing at a time. Unless you see something that is urgent, like a safety situation, do not deviate from the purpose agreed during the preparation stage. Remember, continuous improvement works because it is focused on small improvements at a time.