Great results rely on thoughtful planning, execution, and follow-up. Executives and project managers gain valuable insight into the flow of value through the organization by visiting the place where actual work is done. This technique of leaving the offices to closely monitor the place where critical production takes place is referred to as a Gemba Walk. It is important for anyone who deals with project management and modern leadership methods as it facilitates uncovering opportunities for improvement and learning novel ways to support employees. Is Gemba Walks effective? How does it work? Here is Gemba Walks explained with instances of how it supports project management

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What Is Gemba?

The term 'Gemba' has a Japanese origin. It means "the place where something arises" or "the actual place". It is, thus, the crux of every company and its processes.  

The manufacturing industry uses the term Gemba Walk to signify the action of walking around an organization's floor or production area where operations take place to diminish waste and improve processes. Executives and Managers carry out this operational control activity to identify discordances with the raised or standard issues. Therefore, Gemba Walk is a problem-solving practice of operational control and improvement in organizations.

How Does Gemba Walk Work? 

How would a project manager tell whether time or resources are being wasted if he is in his office cabin all the time? How would he know the indicators of good or bad processes? Will it be possible for him to recognize the need for improvement? 

The above questions necessitate Gemba Walks. Taking a Gemba walk requires an Executive or Manager to schedule 20 to 25 minutes on a regular basis to visit the production floor. Usually, the Six Sigma team takes time to speak to frontline workers and line managers to understand better how the processes work. Therefore, Gemba Walk is a collaborative approach involving workers and managers who rely on information gained from one another. 

An effective Gemba Walk involves:

  • Planning: The inspecting team has to have a set of questions and a structured plan for Gemba Walks. 
  • Preparing a team: Train the team on what has to be observed and how. Gemba Walks are better when taken with a team of people from various departments.
  • Following the flow of value: Observe areas with a high potential to minimize waste. 
  • Prioritizing process: Focusing on processes is more important than focusing on people. Remember, Gemba Walks are not for employee performance evaluation.
  • Putting up rational questions: Asking crucial questions is important to a Gemba Walk, and so is documenting the observations.
  • Following up with employees: Sharing what you learned during your Gemba Walk and the changes you plan to make is important. 

11 Effective Ways in Which Gemba Walk Supports Project Management

The significance of Gemba Walks has made it popular in organizations across the globe. As part of the Lean methodology, the practice is highly beneficial for leadership teams, as it improves processes, facilitates problem-solving, and reduces wasteful activities to foster continuous improvement.

1. Provides the System With An Array of Improvement Opportunities 

Gemba Walks sustains an organization's continuous improvement culture. These walks pinpoint where the flaws originate. The managers identify recurring issues or deviations from standards through Gemba Walks and generate improvement opportunities from these problems. 

2. Reduces Waste 

Gemba Walks help find issues and act on them proactively before they hamper productivity, quality, deadlines, and health and safety. It continually reduces waste by eliminating issues once and for all. They facilitate enhanced control and operations improvement. 

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3. Workers From All Levels Contribute to the Improvement 

Gemba Walks involve all management levels. So, managers can raise all types of issues to generate improvement opportunities. Different project managers validate and take action as per their management level. It also involves the transfer of issues among various management levels for a bottom-up improvement approach.

It is a collaborative and, thus, a strong approach as everyone contributes to the improvement process, from frontline workers to team leaders to managers and directors.

4. Bring Context to the Proposed Improvement Ideas

Managers document improvement ideas soon after the floor tour. This approach standardizes documentation of issues and provides a more precise understanding of when it is the time to take action. Also, supervisors and directors get to see the complete history of origin, identification and action. 

5. Provides Ample Time to Project Managers 

Reactive problem-solving approaches consume the managers' time and add to their busy schedules. When the detection and resolution of issues are anecdotal, the problems have already impacted the project even before the managers can address them. 

Contrastingly, Gemba Walks promotes a proactive problem-solving approach as issues are identified before they come up and are solved on the spot with a lesser impact on objectives. It saves project managers' time, allowing them to focus on improvement.

6. Increases Managers' Commitment

Gemba Walks structure the identification of opportunities. With easier conduction of Gemba Walks comes better adherence to improvement practices. These walks ensure a systematic presence of managers and supervisors on the floor, increasing their commitment to the company's objectives and the maintenance of standards.

7. Facilitate Consistency in Strategic Objectives

With Gemba Walks, you and your team can collaborate in curating a validation list that aligns the detection of issues with the company's improvement priorities. Thus, managers can validate questions which facilitate prioritizing the right objectives. Fewer consumer complaints follow-up as a result of an effective Gemba Walk.

8. Gives the Big Picture 

While graphical data displays like Histograms and Pareto Charts reveal how well the process is performing, there is a chance that they might not be measuring the right thing. When a team doesn't leave the conference room and its interaction with the processes relies on paper printouts displaying performances, the solutions are likely to be incomplete. Contrastingly, understanding the entire process after seeing it and gaining input from all members who were part of the Gemba Walk is more likely to present an in-depth analysis.

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9. Primes the Subconscious Mind 

The human brain receives approximately 11 million bits of information every second, but the conscious mind takes only 50 bits of this information. The 220,000 to 1 ratio applies to every insight and observation a team member gains from a Gemba Walk. The 220,000 bits stay locked away in the subconscious mind. Using this raw material in your fellow members' minds creates room for more creative insights. 

10. Builds Morale

When managers and executives spend time with first-line workers, it shows that the company cares about its people and the projects. Well-structured Gemba Walls increases workers' confidence and boosts employees' morale resulting in better project outcomes. 

11. First-Hand Facts Translate to Optimized Projects

Gemba Walks provide first-hand information diminishing chances of ambiguity, bias, or information modification. Project Managers see for themselves the entire process and need not depend on third-party information.

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Often Project Managers and Executives state that their schedules are too busy for regular Gemba walks without realizing that most of the activities that take up substantial time can be eliminated by Gemba Walks. A first-hand look saves hours spent on scanning second or third-hand accounts about issues. 

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