Walk this way – talk this way: the Gemba walk

As a leader, you cannot simply expect your team to be working as efficiently and dedicatedly as you’d like them to when all you’re doing is sitting in your corner office or attending monthly meetings. If your practice management strategy revolves around data reports or occasional discussions around a conference table, your system is, in fact, defunct.

Instead, you need to see where the real work happens to be able to recognize opportunities for value and uncover wastes in the system in real-time. You need to do Gemba walks.

What is a Gemba walk?

Developed by the leaders at Toyota, the term “Gemba” comes from Japanese and is translated to “the true place.” It is also known as “the actual place” or as “the place of the event.” The Gemba Walk is an essential part of the Lean management system that allows leaders to effectively capture topics and concerns related to how efficiently their teams are performing.

By doing routine Gemba Walks, you can observe the actual work processes, engage with your employees and build stable relationships, gain knowledge about the work processes, and explore new opportunities for continuous improvement. However, Gemba walks are not a task that can be delegated, it is only a matter for the boss. Nevertheless, you can take along a colleague or a third person who can see the processes with different eyes.

It‘s best to do all the work that has to be done at least once by yourself. If this is not possible because special knowledge is required that you do not have, you should at least observe the work process and note what you notice. It is worthy to note that the Gemba walks be seen not as a control instrument, but as an opportunity to optimize processes which is why you must inform your employees of the planned Gemba walks.

How to optimize your Gemba walks?

Focus on analysing the core issues rather than evaluating your employee’s performance. Gemba walks should be standardized and run according to fixed rules so that we get really evaluable results. Some specific questions you can ask your employees are:

  • What task has taken the most time this week?
  • Which task should get more time?
  • What task should be added?
  • Which activity should be eliminated?
  • Which work do you think is best for you?
  • Which activity do you prefer doing?

For example, the paths laid out in public green areas are beautifully planned but just in a few weeks, you begin to see footprints formed over the grass. This happens because the landscape architects failed to take into account the shortest route between the bus stop and the railway station, which incidentally runs through the green area. This, therefore, becomes an unplanned trail. We can see this phenomenon in our work processes when we do the Gemba walk.

At your workplace, you may observe that sometimes “shortcuts” are taken, which can result in two things: the prohibition of shortcuts or adaptation of (working) routes, depending on the objective. The Gemba walks not only allow you to recognize where you can optimize processes but also allows you to visualize where you should change the current operating procedures.

I recommend doing the Gemba Walk regularly. Bear in mind that the treatment areas, reception, appointments, e-mails, insurance questions, warehousing, etc. are also part of it. But you need not go through all areas in a single day, instead, doing in sections or increments. ut once a month the boss should have seen all areas and talked to all employees.

The Gemba Walk is not only useful for checking materials, tools or workflows, but also helps you to better recognize unnecessary movements caused by searching for specific tools and during the treatment itself. Standardize regular Gemba Walks in your practice to help restore continuous improvement and growth.

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