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A Blueprint For Effective Workplace Walkthroughs



A Gemba Walk can bring many benefits to an offsite factory. But it must be done correctly.

  • The Gemba Walk allows management to interact with employees, observe work in progress, and uncover opportunities for improvement.

  • Potential benefits include less waste, higher employee engagement, and better collaboration.

  • The author outlines the steps that must be followed to ensure an effective Gemba Walk.

If you’ve read any of my articles, you know I strongly believe that continuous improvement is paramount to maximizing your potential and staying ahead of your competition. One of the most effective tools for achieving this improvement is the Gemba Walk.


Gemba Walks allows you, as an offsite leader, to observe the work environment firsthand, identify areas of waste, engage with employees, and drive a culture of continuous improvement. In this article, we’ll explore what Gemba Walks are, their benefits to an offsite construction factory, how to conduct them effectively, and best practices for maximum effectiveness.


What Are Gemba Walks?


Gemba, a Japanese term meaning “the real place,” refers to the actual location where work happens. Gemba Walks involves visiting the factory or shop floor to gain a deep understanding of the processes, identify bottlenecks, and uncover opportunities for improvement. By observing work in progress and engaging with employees, managers can gather valuable insights that can lead to more efficient operations.


Why Gemba Walks?


Gemba Walks offers numerous benefits to offsite construction factories:


Real-time observation and engagement. By being physically present at the production site, managers (including and especially the CEO) can gain a comprehensive understanding of the processes, observe the work in action, and identify potential areas for improvement.


Identification of waste and non-value-added activities. Gemba Walks enables the detection of waste, such as unnecessary movement, waiting times, overproduction, defects, and excess inventory. This helps in eliminating these inefficiencies and optimizing the production process.


Encouragement of employee involvement and empowerment. Gemba Walks provides an opportunity for you to engage with employees, listen to their ideas and challenges, and empower them to contribute to process improvements. This involvement fosters a sense of ownership and motivation among the workforce.


Enhanced communication and collaboration. Gemba Walks facilitates open communication between management and employees. They create an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their insights and suggestions, leading to improved collaboration and problem-solving.


Culture of continuous improvement and learning. Gemba Walks reinforces the mindset of continuous improvement, encouraging employees to proactively seek out opportunities for innovation and refinement. This culture of learning and growth can have a significant impact on the overall efficiency and success of your factory.



Conducting Effective Gemba Walks


To conduct effective Gemba Walks, the following steps should be followed:


Preparing for a Gemba Walk


1. Set clear objectives and expectations for the walk, such as focusing on safety, quality, or process efficiency.


2. Determine the appropriate frequency and duration of the walks, considering the size and complexity of the operation. I recommend starting with daily, then gradually decreasing frequency, but no less than bi-weekly.


3. Assemble a cross-functional team that includes representatives from different departments such as business development, engineering, and purchasing, to ensure a holistic perspective.



Executing a Gemba Walk


1. Engage with workers and observe the work environment without interrupting or disrupting their tasks.


2. Ask open-ended questions to understand the challenges they face and their ideas for improvement. Actively listen to their responses.


3. Gather data and take notes on observations, identifying areas of waste, bottlenecks, and potential improvement opportunities.


4. Document findings and areas for improvement to ensure they are not forgotten or overlooked.



Post-walk Activities


1. Analyze the data collected during the Gemba Walk and identify improvement opportunities.


2. Prioritize the identified opportunities based on their potential impact and feasibility.


3. Implement actionable solutions derived from the Gemba Walk findings.


4. Evaluate the effectiveness of the implemented changes and monitor their impact on the operation.




Best Practices for Gemba Walks


To maximize the effectiveness of Gemba Walks, consider the following best practices:


1. Foster a culture of openness and trust, where employees feel comfortable sharing their observations and ideas.


2. Promote two-way communication during Gemba Walks. Encourage managers to actively listen to employees, ask probing questions, and seek clarification to gain a comprehensive understanding of the situation.


3. Empower employees by involving them in problem-solving and decision-making processes. Recognize and implement their suggestions whenever feasible, reinforcing a sense of ownership and empowerment.


4. Incorporate Gemba Walks into regular management routines. Make them a standard practice and allocate dedicated time to visit the factory floor regularly.


5. Sustain continuous improvement efforts by documenting and tracking the progress made based on the findings of Gemba Walks. Regularly review and update improvement plans to ensure ongoing refinement.


6. Provide training and education to managers and employees on the principles and techniques of Gemba Walks. Equip them with the necessary skills to conduct effective walks and derive meaningful insights. (NOTE: Allow production and operations managers to participate in Gemba Walks, but do not completely delegate this responsibility. It is ultimately the CEO’s job to champion Lean in the company, including personally conducting Gemba Walks.)


7. Share the outcomes and successes resulting from Gemba Walks with the entire workforce. Celebrate improvements and recognize the contributions of employees, reinforcing the importance of Gemba Walks as a driver of positive change.


Conclusion


Gemba Walks serve as a powerful tool for driving efficiency, identifying waste, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement in offsite construction factories. By immersing yourself in the real work environment, you can gain valuable insights, engage with employees, and collaborate on finding solutions.


By implementing best practices and incorporating Gemba Walks into regular management routines, you can unlock the full potential of your factory, achieve higher efficiency, and deliver exceptional results in this rapidly evolving industry. Embrace the power of Gemba Walks and witness the transformative impact they can have on your offsite operations.


If you want to learn more, stay tuned for my column in the October issue. It goes into detail on a Gemba Walk in action and the benefits the company received.


Daniel Small is a Denver, Colorado-based management consultant to the offsite construction industry. He specializes in Lean Construction and Manufacturing and Six Sigma methodologies. For assistance with improving your offsite manufacturing process, contact him at 719-321-1953 or DSmall@DaVinciInno.com. Or visit LeanOffsite.com.


Published in OFFSITE BUILDER Magazine on September 28, 2023

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