If you are in charge of a group or lead someone other than yourself, you need to get walking... now! When it comes to Lean process improvements, I prefer concepts that are sustainable. There is no sense in reading all about a complex tool that you will never be able to properly implement at your company. Simple and easy to understand are the way to go 90% of the time and since that's where the low hanging fruit can be found, that's where you should invest your time.

"Gemba" refers to the Japanese term meaning "Where the work is done". Unless you are a "one man show", that work isn't going to be found at your desk, its out in your sales office, your manufacturing floor, your showroom; anyplace that your clients are paying you to stay in business. "Walking the Gemba" simply means that you are following the bread crumbs from one end of your business process to the other. Along the way you are taking notes about the flow from the employees viewpoint but with your eye for waste.

What is waste? We can talk more about this in future posts but essentially you want to ferret out the following types of problems: If extra steps are being taken, if employees are not sure about how to proceed, if too much of an item is being made, if employees are waiting on another department for work... even if employees are being underutilized based on their skill set. Waste is your hard-earned profit leaking out of holes in your ship that you don't see.

Get it all down on paper, detail it up, ask questions and then ask more questions! A good leader must poke and prod to get to either a better understand of what their experts are doing or to unearth an undiscovered problem. You have to depend on your coworkers for good information so always tread lightly and be respectful. You are not looking to point fingers with this exercise, you are creating an outline to prevent future problems, confusion, and WASTE!

The well documented walk will solve half of the problems that you find and you may only find half of the total issues. Wait that's only 25%, what kind of improvement is this?? Don't be discouraged. They say that any documented problem is half solved so rest assured that you are making good progress. After getting your issues down on paper, you can sort out the biggest offenders and then use Lean tools such as 5S, A3, etc to get them solved. Don't give up - follow through with your effort and plug the holes.

Routinely walking the Gemba will start opening your eyes to finding waste. Trust me it will get easier and easier. Just don't sit at your desk thinking about your business processes, get up and get to work!