Today’s post provides tips for conducting gemba walks in the office.
“Go see, ask why, show respect.”
– Fujio Cho
Gemba walks are a critical component of a high-performing Lean Management System. Gemba walks involve going to where the work is actually being done, and identifying waste by either seeing it for yourself or by talking with the people doing the work. In a manufacturing environment, Gemba walks often involve standing in a central spot on the floor (sometimes an actual chalk circle drawn on the floor) and observing the process. In an office, however, you could spend all day standing in a central spot on the floor and gain little to no understanding of the actual flow of work through the space.
Because of this, many leaders in an office setting either focus gemba walks on physical items (full trash cans, messy copy and print areas, etc.), or they give up and decide gemba walks are only useful in a manufacturing environment. Whether gemba walks are done just for show or abandoned altogether, the true benefits of the gemba walk on an office setting are lost.
Remember from above, to conduct a gemba walk, you have to go where the work is being done and talk with the people doing the work. In an office setting, this means literally pulling up a chair and interacting with people as they work. If you aren’t observing what’s happening on the computer screens, you aren’t truly observing the flow of work in most cases.
Don’t be dismayed if it takes a few times to get the hang of office gemba walks-it isn’t easy in any circumstances, but it can be especially difficult in an office setting. Below are five tips for conducting an office gemba walk:
- Lean is certainly about respecting your employees, so don’t forget to begin a gemba walk by letting people know your motivation, and what to expect. People should feel that they now have an ally on their side helping to listen and uncover problems that makes their work hard to do rather than just another “big brother” literally watching over their shoulder as they work.
- Ask questions! Don’t assume anything, and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something in front of your team. They will come to respect you for your humility
- In addition to asking questions about what you observe, ask the team members what pain points they experience in the process. After all, they are the true experts on the process, and probably have more ideas than you could fathom about how to improve the process.
- Try and focus as much attention as possible on the process and away from the tools. It is easy to walk away from an office gemba walk with 50 new IT requests. It’s better to find some immediate solutions/actions that can be implemented without requiring development time. If you can, limit your requests to high-impact advances-they will get done sooner since you limited the items in the queue.
- Follow up on what you learned and discovered. Create action items and follow up on them-your employees will see the ideas actually being implemented and momentum will quickly build.
By following the above tips, you can make office gemba walks into an anticipated activity for your entire team, instead of an afterthought, or something to be avoided. So get out there, hit the gemba, and solve some problems with your team!
The Lean Office has an entire suite of modules designed to support your Lean Management System, including a tool for specifically designed for Gemba Walks. Click here to find out more!