To The Gemba! … And Beyond!

Posted on Posted in Management System

One benefit of lean thinking in an organization is that it mobilizes all levels to think about the value provided to the customer. From the CEO’s office to the level where the work gets done on the front line, to be successful, any process improvement efforts ideally needs everyone involved.

Gemba in Japanese means “the real place”. In Lean Healthcare, this is the place where value is created for the customer in the patient care areas within a hospital or a clinic.

Having leadership conduct gemba walks allows the team to make a direct connection with leadership in the actual work setting. Leaders can see for themselves barriers to operational efficiency and voice support and encouragement for change directly to the team.

Conducting a gemba walk, though, is more than just walking through the workplace and making observations. A gemba walk is a golden opportunity for organizational leadership to engage staff and ask them where they need support from the top.

I’ve listed 5 ways to ensure that a gemba walk provides value to both the leader and the staff.

  1. Keep the visit short – A gemba walk ideally can be done in 45 minutes and shouldn’t take more than an hour. Starting with a review of the Daily Management System in the area, the visit should focus on an overview of operations. The leader should develop a standard set of questions to be able to pull from when visiting multiple units of the same type. This allows for operational comparisons and the ability to highlight best practices within the organization for faster, more-widespread adoption.
  2. Walk the Value Stream – Reviewing the way that the customer derives value from the process is a good way to gain perspective of how the operation functions day-to-day. It also puts the customer’s perspective in the leader’s point of view.
  3. Ask for Examples of Standard Work – This is a great way to segue into what matters to the staff in the area. Ask an open-ended question about the standard work currently in use. This will leave the discussion open to any critical feedback the staff might have about barriers impacting the standard work and any views of how to improve the existing process.   If there is not any standard work implemented in the area, the discussion can then pivot to the processes that would most benefit from a standardized method and why.
  4. Review Performance of Key Metrics – Spending time to review the metrics that are most important to the operation will provide a view into how things are going operationally. This time spent reviewing the data provides another forum for the employee to voice concerns about barriers to performance. The team should be encouraged by leadership to discuss what issues are impacting the process, what the root causes of these issues are and how to counter them with small changes for improvement.
  5.  Ask Three Easy Questions -When conducting a gemba walk, my focus remains on three questions throughout my visit.

What’s working well?

Where is there opportunity for improvement?

What kind of support do you need?

I ensure that these three questions are answered at some point during our time together. It almost always provides valuable pieces of information for a follow-up action item list or practices that might inspire other areas of the organization to improve.