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Ideally, in military operations, the soldiers fight on battlefields and war fronts and the generals fight from their situation rooms. Both their roles are incredibly significant but how are wars won? They are won when a general visits the trenches, stands amongst his troops, looks them in the eyes, and says “We’re doing this for a bigger purpose than ourselves and every step you take hereon will define the course of history. So, men guard your battle stations, and let’s win this war!”
The same applies to organizations. Every organization is at an invisible war against time, inefficiencies, waste, overheads, and most of all a brewing counter-culture. In these testing times, most teams lose a sense of what they are doing and more importantly, why. So, how can a leader fix this? Simply, by taking a page out of the military playbook and visiting the troops in the trenches. That’s exactly what Gemba advocates for. Let’s understand this deeply.
Gemba is a Japanese word that means “the real place.” If you have ever watched Japanese television, you’d hear this term a lot in the news or investigative stories. Gemba quite simply means ground zero – where the real action happens.
However, a business is not a scene of any crime so, in this context, Gemba refers to the place where value is created. The term is quite famously used in manufacturing operations, where the Gemba is nothing but the manufacturing floor. In more general terms, Gemba can be any place, such as a construction site, a retail outlet, a showroom, and in modern days business, even a metaverse. Basically, any place where the service provider interacts directly with the customer. A larger question still remains about how all this is significant in improving organizational outcomes and the answer lies in Gemba Walks.
In the face of complexity, individuals involved in a certain operation usually deviate from the fine prints of the solutions they’re tasked to implement. Often problems are theoretically abstracted into data points and endless meetings. Acknowledging this larger-than-life issue, a leadership team in Toyota devised, what they called, a Gemba Walk. When applied to Six Sigma or Lean Methodologies, Gemba walk means making an effort to observe how the tasks are conducted on the ground and interacting with the people who do it. Bringing theoretical discussions to real-life challenge orientation.
The Gemba Management started to be a manufacturing-specific activity but today it has been applied to process improvement across many industries and operational models. It can include anything from software engineering, marketing & sales to customer service centers – the place of real action.
It is a well-established dynamic that the actions of leaders can greatly impact an entire project, even the organization at large. Gemba Walk allows senior executives to experience how a specific operation is carried out. These observations allow leaders to comprehend the disparity between theoretical and practical models. Additionally, the interaction with on-site teams allows for a deeper understanding of cultural and other intangible factors influencing productivity.
Gemba Walk is a collaborative approach with your internal stakeholders providing details about what is done and why. The success of such a walk is subject to thoughtful planning, execution, and follow-up.
The 9 steps below ensure that your next Gemba walk is successful.
Also, check out A guide to applying Gemba Walk.
It is significant to remember that Gemba Walk is a way to gather information through observation and interaction with your team. At all costs, you must avoid:
Actively listening to your team, closely observing operations, and investing post-Gemba Walk to reflect and plan future actions can help the company boost collaboration and implement a positive culture. Having this approach rules out the fear of punitive action after Gemba Walks within your teammates.
Ideally, Gemba walk should be a well-managed process and as you may have understood, Gemba Management is no straightforward task. It is a complex set of procedures involving multiple stakeholders. Globally, you can find Gemba training resources as well as Gemba Management guides. However, Gemba consulting in India remains a vital value-add to many corporations. Companies like Arrowhead Consulting craft a Gemba Management process for brands to ensure their value chain is enriched, lean and continuously improving. So, when are you going walking?
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