The Walk of the Gemba

What is a “Gemba” – a slight rant

Gemba, as a term, is here to stay. We’re told that gemba comes from the Japanese for “the actual place”, and people who know more than me say it probably should translate as “Genba” but phonetically it uses an “m” instead and as a result, it’s commonly referred to as gemba – so that’s how it is used. Someday I’ll see a good linguistic study of loan words in quality circles, and I have been known to fight against some of the “buzz-terminess” of adoption of words from Japanese. But gemba is a term that seems to have settled in, and heck, English is a borrowing language.

Just don’t subject me to anymore hour long talks about how we’re all doing lean wrong because we misunderstood a Japanese written character (I can assure you I don’t know any Japanese written characters). The Lean practitioner community sometimes reminds me of 80s Ninja movies, and can be problematic in all the same ways – you start with Enter the Ninja and before long its Remo Williams baby!

So lets pretend that gemba is an English word now, we’ve borrowed it and it means “where the work happens.” It also seems to be a noun and a verb.

And if you know any good studies on the heady blend of Japanophobia mixed with Japanophilia from the 80s and 90s that saturated quality and management thinking, send them my way.

The Importance of the Gemba Walk

Gemba is a principle from the lean methodology that says “go and see” something happening for real – you need to go and see how the process really works. This principle rightly belongs as one of the center points of quality thinking. This may be fighting words but I think it is the strongest of the principles from Lean because of the straightforward “no duh” of the concept. Any quality idea that feels so straightforward and radical at the same time is powerful.

You can think of a gemba through the PDCA lifecycle -You plan, you do it, you decide on the learnings, you follow through.

Gemba seen through the PDCA lense

This is all about building a shared understanding of problems we all face together by:

  1. Observation of specific issues where things don’t go as intended, listening to the people who do the work.
  2. Discussion of what those issues mean both in the details of operations but also on a wider strategic level.
  3. Commitment to problem solving in order to investigate further – not to fix the issue but to have the time to delve deeper. The assumption is that if people understand better what they do, they perform better at every aspects of their job

Gemba walks demonstrate visible commitment from the leadership to all members of the
organization. They allow leadership to spread clear messages using open and honest
dialogue and get a real indication of the progress of behavioral change at all levels. They
empower employees because their contributions to site results are recognized and their
ideas for continuous improvements heard.

Conducting a Successful Gemba Walk

Elements of a Successful Gemba

Plan Effectively
Define your goalWhat is it that you want to do a gemba walk for? What do you hope to find out? What would make this activity a success? A successful walk stresses discovery.
Set a scopeWhich areas will you observe? A specific process? Team? This will allow you to zoom into more detail and get the most out of the activity.
Set a themeWhat challenges or topics will you focus on? Specific and targeted gemba walks are the most effective. For example, having a emba focusing on Data Integrity, or area clearance or error reduction.

Picking the right challenge is critical. Workplaces are complex and confusing, a gemba walk can help find concrete problems and drive improvement linked to strategy.
Find additional viewpointsWho else can help you? Who could add a “fresh pair of eyes” to see the big questions that are left un-asked. Finding additional people to support will result in a richer output and can get buy in from your stakeholders.
Get supportBring visibility and sponsorship for your gemba. Ensure all stakeholders are aware and on board.
Plan the Logistics
Identify Suitable TimeFind a suitable time from the process’ perspective. Be sure to also consider times of day, days of the week and any other time-based variations that occur in the process.
Find right locationWhere should you see the process? Also, do you need to consider visiting multiple sites or areas?
Map what you’ll seeDefine the process steps that you expect to see.
Build an agendaWhat parts of the process will you see in what order? Are there any time sensitive processes to observe?
Share that agendaSharing your agenda to get help from the operational owner and other subject matter experts.
Doing the Gemba Walk
Explain what you are doingPut people at ease when you’re observing the process.

When you are on the walk you need to challenge in a productive yet safe manner to create a place where everyone feels they’ve learned something useful and problems can be resolved. It pays to communicate both the purpose and overall approach by explaining the why, the who, and the when.
Use your agendaKeep some flexibility but also make sure to cover everything.
Ask open questionsOpen discussion and explore the process challenges.
Ask closed questionsUse this to check your understanding of the process.
Capture reality with notesTake notes as soon as possible to make sure you recall the reality of the situation.
CoachAs a coach, your objective is not to obtain results – that’s the person you’re coaching’s role – but to keep them striving to improve. Take a step back and focus on dismantling barriers.
What did you learnWhat did you expect to see but didn’t? Also, what did you not expect to happen?

The ask questions, coach, learn aspect can be summarized as:
  1. Visualize the ideal performance with your inner eye

  2. Spot the specific difficulty the person is having (they’ll tell you – just listen)

  3. Explain that (though sometimes they won’t want to hear it)

  4. Spell out a simple exercise to practice overcoming the difficulty.
After the Gemba Walk
What did you learn?Were challenges widespread or just one offs? Review challenges with a critical eye. The best way I’ve heard this explained is “helicopter” thinking – start n a very detailed operational point and ascend to the big picture and then return to the ground.
Resolve challenges with a critical eyeDefine next steps and agree which are highest priority. It is a good outcome when what is observed on the gemba walk leads to a project that can transform the organization.
Take actionFollow-through on the agreed upon actions. Make them visible. In order to avoid being seen only as a critic you need to contribute firsthand.
Hold yourself to accountShare your recommendations with others. Engage in knowledge management and ensure actions are complete and effective.
Key points for executing a successful GEMBA

Gemba Walks as Standard Work

You can standardize a lot of the preparation of a gemba walk by creating standard work. I’ve seen this successfully done for data integrity, safety, material management and other topics.

Build a frequency, and make sure they are often, and then hold leaders accountable.

WhoBest Practice FrequencyMinimum Recommended Frequency
First line supervisorsEach shift, multiple timesEach shift
Team leaders in individual unitsDaily covering different shifts2 per week
Unit/Department heads1 per day1 per week
Leadership team1 per day1 per month
Internal customers and support (e.g. purchasing, finance, HR)1 per month1 per quarter
Frequency recommendation example

Going to the Gemba for a Deviation and Root Cause Analysis

These same principles can apply to golden-hour deviation triage and root cause analysis. This form of gemba means bringin together a cross-functional team meeting that is assembled where a potential deviation event occurred. Going to the gemba and “freezing the scene” as close as possible to the time the event occurred will yield valuable clues about the environment that existed at the time – and fresher memories will provide higher quality interviews. This gemba has specific objectives:

  • Obtain a common understanding of the event: what happened, when and where it happened, who observed it, who was involved – all the facts surrounding the event. Is it a deviation?
  • Clearly describe actions taken, or that need to be taken, to contain impact from the event: product quarantine, physical or mechanical interventions, management or regulatory notifications, etc.
  • Interview involved operators: ask open-ended questions, like how the event unfolded or was discovered, from their perspective, or how the event could have been prevented, in their opinion – insights from personnel experienced with the process can prove invaluable during an investigation.

You will gain plenty of investigational leads from your observations and interviews at the gemba – which documents to review, which personnel to interview, which equipment history to inspect, and more. The gemba is such an invaluable experience that, for many minor events, root cause and CAPA can be determined fairly easily from information gathered solely at the gemba.

ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference – Day 2

I ran into Stuart MacDonald, the magician from yesterday in several sessions today. I love when keynotes at a conference show their passion by learning from fellow practitioners. I bought his book, so it also worked on that level.

Morning Keynote of “Achieving Operational Excellence with Passion and Creativity” by Kaplan Mobray

As a facilitator I always approve of walking into a session with a name tag, file cards, paper, and crayons. It warms my heart.

Career coaches and motivational speakers are a tough one for me as I rarely connect with them as a conference speaker. Mr. Mobray had a high energy level, but what I really enjoyed was him using various facilitation techniques (graphic drawing) as a way to focus on his simple points, such as “pass it on” or “evolve” or “progress over persecution.”

“Steering Towards Zero Issues” by Franco Seravalli

Starts with the dilemma of poor quality and a high level overview of the case study at an automobile parts supplier in Costa Rica.

Though his case study covered their path root cause analysis and gap analysis and then went to improvement strategy.

  • People – Trust our people
  • Containment
  • Correction/Prevention

People was the most important.

Step by step process to create a quality culture and sell change.

Steps for strengthening people

Focus on people and talked about human error and human performance.

  • Awareness – create a sense of pride and empathy with the customer. Transparency and candor and making the quality issues public
  • Commitment – Public displays of support. Talk and listen. Management walking-the-walk
  • Empowerment – Trust your people, decision-making authority
  • Accountability – interesting point about cultural differences (for example Spanish and Portuguese do not have this word)
  • Recognition
Credit where credit is due

Containment – focused on stop the bleeding and close the circle. Containment is fairly high level and felt very industry specific in his details.

Corrective Actions – laid out the typical deviation to CAPA to effectiveness review path. Covered 8D, talking about need to add risk analysis/management and the place of effectiveness reviews.

Covers risk and PFMEAs.

Again, not an intermediate discussion. We need better criteria for ranking a session. I would have gone to this even if it was marked basic as the speaker is a member of the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum, but I worry for other participants.

“See One, Do One, Go Do One” by Karissa Craig

Karissa laid out a journey to develop, trial, implement, evaluate, and refine their approach through a case study.

Brings a good qualification approach to Lean with “See One” and “Do One” are classroom learning and the “Go Do One” is application.

Talked about the resistance and the need for accountability for application. A “want to” and not a “have to”

Demonstrated the A3 as rubric for the “Go Do One”. Offered some good discussion of how firefighter cultures (which healthcare) and how you need to build the right culture to do problem and root cause and not jump to solutions.

Gave a nice 8-week (with added 1-week pre, 1-week post) schedule for training and doing.

For training focused on basic problem solving, talked about avoiding perfectionism and set reasonable expectations. Karissa described a great sounding training program. This three hour class seemed very well put together.

Had an interesting share on how training led people to realize that problem solving was harder than they used to think and impacted employee engagement. This led to a sponsor training so sponsors understood how to support teams.

“Run with scissors” about how transformation involves risk and the ways to deal with it.

Rest of the Day

I spent the afternoon networking and connecting and conducting some ASQ Team and Workplace Excellence Forum business and didn’t attend any of the afternoon sessions. I was ambivalent about the afternoon keynote speaker/piano player.

Understanding the Levers of Change

As part of my presentation “Sustaining Change – Executing a Sustainability Plan” at the ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference tomorrow I’ll be talking about levers of change.

Understanding the change landscape

Change Management practitioners usually talk about seven levers:

  1. Infrastructure – Investing in the tools, processes, and other resources that employees need to be successful with the change initiative.
  2. Walk the Talk – active leadership is about ownership; it includes making the business case clear, modeling behaviors, clearing obstacles and making course corrections.
  3. Reward and Recognition – acknowledgement and compensation for employees who work to move the initiative forward
  4. Mass Exposure – getting out information about the change through broadcast messages and other communication pathways
  5. Personal Contacts – creating opportunities for advocates to share their experience of the change with peers who feel disengaged
  6. Outside advocates – bringing in resources (internal or external) to gain expertise for the change initiative
  7. Shift Resisters – moving people to areas less affected by the initiative.
7 levers of change

Conference Speaking -2020 Lean and Six Sigma

In February I will be presenting at the 2020 ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference in Phoenix on Sustaining Change – Executing a Sustainability Plan.

Here’s the presentation summary:

For Lean and Six Sigma projects a central question should always be “how do we sustain this change?” Sustainability is a major part of all the major change models but is often the easiest to neglect. This session will engage the participant in building a Sustainability Plan, a key tool to ensure the change is anchored and embedded in the organization. Through three case study examples of changes at the three major change levels -transactional, organizational and transformational – the participant will gain the knowledge to create and execute an effective change plan.

During this session examples will be given for each component of a sustainability plan:

  • Communication: Mechanisms for persuasive communication and ongoing socialization of the change, rites of parting (saying goodbye to the old ways of doing things), and rites of enhancement (acknowledgment of quick wins and continued adoption)
  • Metrics Tracking: How to identify and execute consistent and effective ongoing measurement and results reporting to track progress and ensure sustained results • Performance Management: Process for observing and objectively measuring desired behaviors and attitudes, including performance appraisal process, promoting, demoting and transferring, and training and development
  • Rewards and Recognition: Program of intrinsic and extrinsic incentives to reinforce desired behaviors and attitudes
  • Sustaining Ownership: Consistent process for ensuring sustained ownership of the change through the ongoing transfer of experience and knowledge
  • Continuous Improvement: Mechanisms for responding to changing requirements and implementing improvements based on feedback, observations, and metrics

The following questions will be explored, and tools for finding answers will be provided:

  • How should organizational achievements reinforcing the change be commemorated
  • What behaviors should be observed and measured on a regular basis?
  • What results should be observed and measured on a regular basis?
  • What metrics should be used for measuring behaviors and results?
  • What mechanisms should be used for reporting results? • What criteria should be used to allocate rewards and promotion?
  • What mechanisms should be used for training, coaching, and role modeling?
  • What processes and procedures should be put in place to ensure sustained ownership of the change?
  • What continuous improvement mechanisms will address low adoption rates and ensure the change becomes part of the organization’s normal functioning?

At the end of the session the user will have a template for creating a sustainability plan and will have been provided tools to successfully execute the sustainability phase of a change.

Learning Objectives 1. Assess the role of sustainability in the major change management methodologies and apply to lean and six sigma projects. 2. Facilitate the sustainability phase of change management. 3. Compose a sustainability plan.