I was reminded recently of the importance of Gemba or “Go See”. Or at least, I was reminded as to how few leaders actually do it or know how to do it well. In my opinion, Gemba is the most important tool a leader has. It provides you the opportunity to see what is really going on, to confirm what your team is telling you, to see what they aren’t telling you or they don’t see, to truly engage with your team, identify waste in the process, and is an important first step towards developing an improvement plan.
While observing a process with another leader recently it became clear that he was struggling to really see what was going on in the process. It was no wonder really. He was so distracted by everything else that was going on around the process. As a result of not really seeing, he and his team had made many significant changes to the process but were not achieving their targets because they hadn’t addressed the real problem.
Here are what I believe to be the 10 important steps for effective gemba:
1. Schedule time for gemba. A leader needs to spend focused quality time observing their processes. It will never happen unless you proactively block time in your calendar to do so. There are always other things that will steal your time, so invest in yourself first by having standing times reserved in your calendar for gemba. Then keep them.
2. Go see with a specific theme. If you are conducting what I call a leadership gemba – meaning you are going to check on your general operations and not a specific problematic process, go with a specific theme of what you are going to look for. For example, today my gemba theme is ‘safety’ and more specifically ‘over-reaching’. This way you are focused and can train your eyes to see the themed area. This approach is far more productive and results in specific actions versus a long laundry list of “to-do’s” for your team, or even worse, a nice stroll with nothing really observed.
3. Introduce yourself and explain what you’re doing. Always introduce yourself to anyone whose process you are observing. Explain to them why and what you’re looking for. Put them at ease. No one likes to be spied on, particularly by the “boss”. Take away the concern right away and explain. It also shows respect.
4. Remain focused. When doing gemba don’t get distracted by other processes, people, or your cell phone. Remain focused on the task at hand. You don’t want to miss something. Typically it’s not a problem with the standard work that is creating a problem in the process, it’s either not following the standard work or the abnormalities that periodically happen that impact it. If you aren’t paying full attention all the time, you will miss these opportunities to see.
5. Remember TIM WOODS. When observing a process you need to look for all forms of waste. TIM WOODS is a good reminder of the various forms of waste.
6. Allow time to see the unseen. Gemba takes time as you need to give yourself enough time to observe multiple cycles of the process. Check that each cycle is completed the same way according to standardized work. In addition, you want to be able to see the abnormalities and periodic work that do occur in and around the process that otherwise are unseen and far to often go unnoticed.
7. Ask questions and request suggestions. Engage directly with the person in the process, when safe and appropriate to do so. Ask them questions about some of the observations you’ve made, such as “how often does this happen?” Seek clarification of your observations or assumptions. Most importantly, request their input. “If you could change one thing in this process, what would that be?” Ask their opinion on how to best improve the process.
8. Conduct on the spot trials. Try minor things right then and there to determine if there are better ways of setting up the process. Hold a tool, part, or indirect material for a few cycles to determine if there is an alternative home position that is easier for the operator. It’s a great way to get the operator involved early and demonstrate you are trying to help them.
9. Summarize your observations. Write down the opportunities you observed and estimate the associated time savings or burden reductions identified. This will allow you as the leader to determine how much improvement can be expected and to assist you in setting a target for improvement with your team.
10. Take action. Another great thing about gemba is that, unless you are dead, you will have to take action to improve the process. You won’t be able to stop yourself because you have seen the waste and you have many great ideas to make meaningful improvements. Whether it’s a quick action item or two, some “just do it” improvements, or a multi-day kaizen event it is critical that you take immediate action to obtain sustained improvement. If you don’t, you will lose the trust and confidence of the operators.
What would you add to this list? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts and experience in the comments below.