If you haven’t figured it out by now, Continuous Improvement requires a deep level of engagement and awareness. In order to identify where opportunities for improvement and lean strategies exist, management is encouraged to get out on the floor and interact with workers. This concept has been popularly practiced as Management By Walking Around (MBWA). The MBWA approach has been criticized, however, as ineffective. Contrarily, a Gemba Walk is considered a direct part of Kaizen. The question is: what’s the difference between the two?
If MBWA is done with continuous improvement in mind, it’s possible to look almost identical to a Gemba Walk. Each has a slightly different intent, however, and the Gemba Walk is better defined. Let’s take a look at each.
MBWA calls for management to make time to walk through work areas. This is a time to observe, ask questions, pitch in, and uncover any issues that aren’t apparent from the board room. Because the concept of MBWA is less structured, managers can miss the point of it. They go in without knowing what questions to ask, where changes have occurred recently (and therefore require special attention), and what kind of corrections should be addressed immediately. Often times, managers will walk though and just highlight the negatives. This isn’t the case for everyone, as there are many companies that benefit from MBWA. However, those that don’t end up wasting their time or making employees resent the concept.
Gemba Walks are targeted to a lean outcome that supports Kaizen. Its purpose is observation, engagement, and improvement. It isn’t an opportunity to correct behavior on-the-spot (unless it’s necessary to safety.) It’s the chance to see in real time the opportunities to improve. It gives employees a chance to give feedback and ideas. All levels of management participate at different intervals. This is a great way to kick-start and maintain lean manufacturing with or without other strategies like 5S or Value Stream Mapping.
When you set off to do a Gemba Walk, you want to establish where, who, and when.
Unlike MBWA, you wouldn’t necessarily walk the entire floor or plant at any time. You’ll narrow your focus to your Gemba – which is the most important location for the team doing the walk. Pick a specific process and walk that area. Go in understanding the processes ahead of and behind it, too.
Everyone in the managerial pyramid should conduct regular Gemba Walks, but with differing frequency. A VP or other top-tiered manager, for example, should do a walk once a quarter. The next level down, like the plant manager, should walk once a month. Someone at the level of a team leader should do a walk every day.
What you’re looking for in your Gemba Walk is the value stream process. Look at it from a lean perspective. Where are your bottlenecks? Where is the waste? What are employees finding to be obstacles, wasteful, or helpful? In our next article, we will go over examples of Gemba Walk Evaluation Sheets for an upper level manager and a lower level manager.
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