Collaborative Coaching: The GEMBA Walk

What is a Gemba Walk?

Gemba the process. Coach the person.
In Lean Six Sigma, the term Gemba is used to describe visualizing and observing how work is done at the level of the worker. It is a Japanese word which means “the real place.” In an application sense, it means going into an office and watching a worker perform their daily duties in an effort to fully understand how a specific process works. It is often times referred as “walking the Gemba” or “doing a Gemba Walk” in the place that matters most. It should be conducted in the place where real value is created, which at AFS is where clients are served.

During the Gemba Walk, supervisors should assess the current state of the work being done. Sometimes, accomplishing the Gemba will entail a tremendous amount of walking, but all too often, it’s merely standing around and watching.

Walking the Gemba helps supervisors gain an understanding of the current reality of a process or behavior. The Gemba Walk is more a process of observation than interaction. The focus of a GEMBA walk is on how things are currently being done, not on how to fix a broken process or behavior. It’s the best way to see, first-hand and unmediated, the obstacles staff face and recognize opportunities for improvement.  It is also a great way to determine the information staff need to make the best possible decisions and create strategies that will help them reach their goals and objectives.

It is important to envision what is supposed to be happening or the desired state. If this process were going perfectly, how would it look? Try hard to visualize in your mind a smooth, totally value-added work flow. In fact, prior to embarking on a Gemba Walk, there are a few key questions you should be able to answer:

  • What process are you observing today?
  • Why are you observing this process?
  • What do you expect to see?
  • Are you (the observer) familiar with this process?

Once the reasons for the observations are understood, it is time to walk the Gemba.

  • Carefully think about and select the time you will observe to let staff know this in advance.
  • Once there, pay attention to process inputs, equipment, individual tasks, as well as social interactions that play a role in the process.

There are four essential elements to the Gemba Walk

Show Respect:

  • Trust the employee’s ability and desire to get the work done
  • The goal of the Gemba Walk is employee development
  • Do not offer solutions during the Gemba Walk
  • You will both collaborate on a solution later
  • Rely on people

Go See:

  • This is an observation, not an interaction or intervention.
  • What did you see?
  • Is the process different than expected?
  • Does the process achieve the purpose?
  • Does the process help the employee successfully complete the work?
  • Does the employee show a clear understanding of the tasks involved?

Ask Questions:

  • What is the purpose of the process or practice you are observing?
  • Is there waste (e.g., rework or bottlenecks) in the process or practice?
  • What and where are the opportunities for process improvement?
  • If the practice is not achieving the purpose, why not?

Think About Next Steps:

  • Have you seen enough to know what is currently happening?
  • What might you need to Gemba next? (Upstream or Downstream)
  • Do you have a complete picture of the process observed?
  • Is there a gap between your expectations and what you observed?
  • Collaborate on how to close the gap.

When potential issues or problems are noted, focus in on one of them. Supervisors should ask “What creates this condition?” or “Where does the problem originate?” Go there and see. Study some more. How is it that this process fails to support its customer? Do employees have a clear understanding of what is expected? How do they know they delivered what their customer required? How do they view their output? Is it defect-free?

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