Improving Operational Efficiency with Gemba Walks

Improving Operational Efficiency with Gemba Walks

Increasing productivity, reducing waste, and streamlining processes is a pursuit common to various industries. Every manager seeks effective strategies to transform their operational workflows into a lean, efficient machine. 

One such powerful tool that is gaining traction is Gemba Walks. The term Gemba originating from the Japanese lexicon, translates to “the real place”. In the business context, it refers to the front lines, or the site of value creation, such as the shop floor, the sales floor, or wherever work is done.

What makes a Gemba Walk unique is its focus on observation and respect for the employees who create value at the front lines. This article provides an in-depth look at how Gemba Walks, or Gemba Audits to Layered Process Audits, can be used to optimize efficiency and improve operational processes.

Gemba walks are a practice that originated from Japanese manufacturing and have since been implemented in various industries across the globe to improve operational efficiency. Observation forms the crux of a Gemba Walk, with an emphasis on seeing processes in their actual work environment. 

Not to be mistaken as a tool for managerial scrutiny, or an excuse for micro-management, it is an exercise aimed at understanding processes by observing them firsthand, and identifying bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and wasteful activities. Accordingly, identifying waste in Gemba Walks is a key step in reducing non-value-added activities and improving efficiency.

Realizing that numerous companies have shifted to online or remote work environments, the principles of Gemba Walks still hold true. A virtual Gemba Walk lends itself beautifully to the remote scenario — where managers can use digital tools to study processes, engage with employees, analyze workflows, and provide corrective actions based on their observations. 

The emerging trend of digital Gemba Walks, or Gemba meaning using digital tools, has been facilitated with the help of various technological advancements. One such solution is Parsable’s software, a Connected Worker® solution that brings Gemba Walks to your mobile application, thereby allowing real-time insights.

The Principles of Gemba Walks

The main ethos underpinning a Gemba Walk can be encapsulated in three core principles: ‘Go See,’ ‘Ask Why,’ and ‘Show Respect’.

  • ‘Go See’: This principle calls for managers to leave their offices and observe work processes at the actual workplace. This is essential to make managerial decisions grounded in the reality of operations.

  • ‘Ask Why’: Managers aren’t simply silent observers in Gemba Walks. They foster a culture of communication and inquiry, asking questions and gaining an understanding of the processes.

  • ‘Show Respect’: This speaks to the intent of the Walk. Gemba Walks aren’t about finding faults with employees; instead, it’s about respecting their work and expertise. Staff on the front lines hold invaluable insights about work processes that are often overlooked. By engaging employees, Gemba Walks serves to foster collaboration and encourage employee engagement.

When implemented correctly, these core principles of Gemba Walks offer a detailed analysis of the organization’s processes and yields actionable insights. It uncovers the inefficiencies hiding in plain sight – enabling organizations to reduce waste, thereby enhancing overall operational efficiency.

Implementation of Gemba Walks

Gemba walks are not aimless strolls through the workplace, but are strategic exercises directed towards improving operational efficiency. Implementing a Gemba walk involves a keen focus on observing processes, engaging employees, identifying areas for improvement, and drawing valuable insights from the walk.

Gemba walks can take various forms based on the organization’s particular needs:

  • Safety Gemba Walk: This focuses primarily on observing and evaluating operations from a safety standpoint. The aim here is to identify potential hazards, evaluate the adherence to safety standards, and implement actions to reinforce these standards.

  • Productivity Gemba Walk: The primary aim of a productivity gemba walk is to increase productivity by identifying bottlenecks, monitoring progress and reducing cycle time where possible.

  • Quality Gemba Walk: The quality of products or services is under scrutiny in this type of Gemba Walk. It focuses on identifying waste and inefficiencies that impact the quality, subsequently enhancing productivity.

  • Virtual Gemba Walk: These are particularly relevant in today’s remote work settings. Digital tools serve as the medium for these walks. It includes observing virtual workers and processes, streamlining digital workflows, and enhancing productivity and efficiency in the virtual work environment.

The key to the success of any Gemba walk is a systematic follow-up process. The observations and insights derived from the walk must act as a catalyst for implementing improvements and driving change. A structured system of tracking these changes, monitoring progress, and iterating improvements is just as important as the walk itself.

Benefits of Gemba Walks

Gemba walks bring a multitude of benefits to the table, justifying their adoption across sectors. These are some tangible benefits harnessed from these walks:

  • Operational Efficiency: By reducing waste, optimum use of resources is ensured, which in turn improves operational efficiency.

  • Employee Engagement: Gemba walks instill a sense of involvement and engagement among employees – as they become active contributors to problem-solving and improvement initiatives.

  • Improvement of Processes: By examining processes under the lens of continuous improvement, Gemba walks serve to refine organizational processes incessantly.

  • Value Addition: By identifying and eliminating wasteful activities, and focusing on value-adding processes, the overall value delivered to the customer is enhanced incrementally.

  • Safety: By reinforcing safety standards and protocols, Gemba walks contribute significantly to nurturing a safe work environment.

Gemba Audit for Operational Efficiency

In conclusion, conducting Gemba walks proves to be a powerful tool in improving operational efficiency. By gaining real-time insights, fostering collaboration, and implementing changes based on direct observation, mangers facilitate the amplification of productivity and performance in their organizations.

Adopting the principles of Gemba walks and implementing them effectively can provide an organization infinite possibilities of streamlining processes, invigorating employee engagement and fortifying a culture of continuous improvement. As a result, an organization’s productivity, quality of service or product, and overall performance can be meaningfully enhanced.

Despite being a simple concept, the impact of Gemba walks when applied diligently and consistently, has far-reaching benefits. It is, therefore, a worthy addition to any organization seeking to powerhouse their operational processes to the zenith of efficiency.

Frank Lee