J. R. Casey Bralla
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West Grove, PA 19390-8806
Essential for Survival!
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The Gemba Walk is a very quick process. The total time spent at any one Visual Metric board should not exceed 10 - 15 minutes. If there are issues that need more discussion and review, then other, more traditional systems such as production meetings should still be used for them.
Gemba Walks are often done in a "layered" manner. At the lowest layer, the Department Manager does a daily walk, and an hourly associate presents the data. At these daily walks, it is common for the local maintenance mechanics, engineers, and QC technicians to participate.
As the results are being reviewed and discussed, maintenance & engineering associates can discuss their plans to provide resolutions for technical problems. Obviously, you can't have a full-blown production meeting on the floor, but you can usually solve many simple problems that otherwise would take numerous eMails or meetings to resolve.
Moving up a layer, the Site-wide Operations Manager may do a weekly walk, visiting the same Visual Metric Boards, but in this case, the Department Manager (along with his staff) will present the information. Just like the daily Gemba Walk, the senior manager provides praise and guidance, only in this case he gives that praise primarily to the Department Manager and his staff.
On these higher level walks, it often appropriate to include representatives from HR, Project Engineering, New Product Development, and Sales & Marketing. Finally, at the highest layer, the Divisional Vice President follows the same Gemba Walk process when he is on site during routine monthly visits. (For the highest layer Gemba Walk, the best practice is to have the lowest level hourly associate directly present to the highest level Vice President. The positive emotional impact of having an hourly associate explain performance and issues to the CEO or VP cannot be overstated.)
In all cases, these reviews are done publicly. Everybody sees that the operation is measured by a clear set of metrics, and that all levels of management are interested in the results of those measures. Also, anyone may ask a question or offer information. The only caveat is that the total time at any one Visual Metric station should not exceed 15 minutes. No matter who is present, a Gemba Walk is not meant to be an all-day affair.
|Gemba Walk Level||Who Presents the Data||Who Provides Guidance and Feedback||Frequency of Walk||Who Else is Present|
|Lowest Level||Hourly associate or Team Leader||Department Manager||Daily||Maintenance,Engineering Technicians,QC Technicians,Other hourly associates|
|Medium Level||Department Manager (Alternate: Team Leader or hourly associate)||Facility Plant Manager||Weekly||Engineering Manager, Quality Manager, Project Engineers, HR Manager, Supply Chain Manager, Production Scheduler|
|High Level||Hourly associate or Team Leader||Vice President of Operations||Monthly||Plant Manager's staff, Sales Manager, Controller|
|NOTE: This is the minimum attendance for a Gemba Walk. Anyone is always welcome to participate, and managers are always encouraged to spend more time out on the floor, reviewing data, asking questions, and giving advice. The Gemba Walk is simply a formalized "Standard Work" way of doing this. By all means, please resist the black hole of eMail and spend as much time at "gemba" as possible! You are much more valuable (and effective!) on the shop floor than you are barricaded into our office with a phone on one ear, your left hand holding your smartphone, and you right hand typing on your computer keyboard.|
A Gemba Walk is also not the time to harshly criticize a manager. We prefer the Gemba Walk to be a positive event, so constructive criticisms directed at an individual are usually best done in private. (This doesn't mean that we can't offer constructive criticism in the Gemba Walk, just that we always want to protect the egos of all the participants.)
One of the critical aspects of a proper Gemba Walk is that the reviews are done very publicly. All the associates see the managers walking the shop floor. The managers are therefore available to all the associates to be able to answer questions, share concerns, or simply say hello. The associates also see that the manager truly cares about the metrics presented on the Visual Metric boards. The numbers therefore are not some abstract measure created by distant accountants; they are critical measures of how well the operation is performing. By publicly demonstrating his interest in these results, the manager is implicitly demonstrating that they are important.
Many companies struggle with keeping all of their associates (hourly and managerial) focused on the same common objectives. There are elaborate procedures (often known by the Japanese phrase "Hoshin Kanri" or the just as obtusely named "Policy Function Deployment") that are used to establish this commonality. The Gemba Walk process can almost automatically create this uniformity simply by having the managers publicly review and respond to the data on a Visual Metric Board. (Of course, it goes without saying that the Visual Metric Board must be measuring things the overall organization feels is important to achieving its objectives.)
Let's discuss each of these in more detail.
In reality, managers find that there is a giant black hole pulling them away from the shop floor and into their offices. They are chained to their computers by eMail! How often have you heard someone joking about a Plant Manager that can't find the Milling Department because he's never been on the floor? (It's a common complaint, but the joke is not very funny.)
As a plant manager, I used to get over 100 eMails per day.
I estimate that I spent an average of 2 minutes per eMail just to read them.
That meant that over 3 hours per day was spent simply reading those eMails.
Of course, many of these eMails would require investigation, planning, and thoughtful replies.
No wonder a Plant Manger has to work so many hours!
Also, this demonstrates how powerfully our work systems tend to pull managers away from the shop floor and into their offices where they are isolated from the "gemba".
By formally scheduling a regular time for the manager to be out on the floor (entered as a high priority item on his Outlook calendar) he will have a much better chance of actually getting away from his office. [Some companies designate Gemba Walk time as "sacred time". If this is scheduled throughout the organization at a specific designated time, then even the CEO will learn not to schedule meetings during this sacred time.]
During a Gemba walk, all the people are together, they all hear about the problem at the same time, and see the same data. They are therefore all in a position to quickly decide on a course of action, and to initiate that action.
This doesn't work for complex problems, but it does work very well for the most common, nagging problems that are easily solved with a little ingenuity and some good follow-through.
For example, if the organization has established a goal to lower scrap costs, but the Visual Metric Board is devoted solely to Productivity and Schedule Attainment, this should be very readily apparent. The manager, who just got beaten up by the VP because scrap costs were 0.1% over budget, will naturally want to know the scrap percentage in each department. If that data is not on the Visual metric board, the manager will then get it added to the board pretty darn quickly.
If so, then a formalized Gemba Walk shouldn't cause them any difficulty. Let's simply formalize what they do now. Pick a single time of day, block out that time on their calendar, invite the supervisors and engineers to this brief period, and they're home free!
Managers love to force hourly associates to do their jobs in a "standard" way. Why not apply the same standard work discipline to the management staff?
A Gemba Walk does have the potential to duplicate a production meeting. The solution is to shorten the existing meeting to focus solely on things that are not applicable to quick discussion on the shop floor. There may be a small amount of overlap, but a well-disciplined production meeting will not duplicate the Gemba Walk very much.
Maybe the daily production meeting can be reduced from 5 days per week to only 2.
Hmmmm. Then how do you know what the heck is going on in your factory? Also, since you're out on the floor all the time [see Item #1], how come you have time for that but not this?
Low level Gemba Walks should happen daily.
Higher level walks, by VPs, may happen less often.
This can be a real problem. I've solved it in very loud environments by purchasing a hand-held PA system. They are battery powered, fairly lightweight, and usually cost less than $100. That's a pretty small investment considering the benefits you get.
You obviously don't buy into the psychological impact of the Lean style of leadership. Managers demonstrate what is important by how they spend their time. If you don't believe this, then nothing I say will change your mind. Good luck!
This is the strongest of all the pushback arguments I've heard. We don't want to destroy what is already working, but perhaps we can make it better.
Three problems with voicemails are:
In this case, I've advised that we pare back the voicemails to bare essentials, such as really good or bad news. This reduces the load on the alternate communication stream and reduces duplicate effort, but still gets us the full benefit of the Gemba Walk process.
Lean organizations do "standard work" in almost every thing they do. Unfortunately, the natural inclination of people and organizations is to slowly stop adhering to the standards (the 2nd law of thermodynamics works with a vengeance in industrial settings). It takes a tremendous amount of personal energy and discipline to overcome this natural tendency to decay into chaos.
How does the Gemba Walk fail? Here are the usual ways:
The time scheduled for Gemba Walks should be sacred, with everybody who's supposed to be there participating, unless they're either recuperating in the hospital or on vacation.
In my experience, the worst offenders against "sacred time" are senior managers,
who will just as quickly chastise you for missing their meeting as demand to know why you're not always doing your Gemba Walks.
We all do it. We can't keep our hands off the smartphones. We check our eMail every ten seconds, and take every call that comes, no matter what we are doing.
What kind of message does the manager send to the rest of the team when he buries his head in the smartphone while the hourly associate is trying to explain what went wrong the day before? How can he understand what is going on, and give advice and direction if he's replying to an eMail?
The solution is to turn the darn thing off while on the walk. Better yet, leave it on your desk. You may not realize it, but most smartphones can automatically take a message.
You'll get back to the boss within the hour. I think he can wait.
This is similar to item #1 above. People who are scheduled to be present on the Gemba Walks have other pressing business which keeps them away occasionally. Nobody says anything about their absence, so these conflicts occur more and more often. Eventually, the person comes so rarely that nobody on the Gemba walk even remembers if they ever participated.
To overcome this, the local Lean Champion has to constantly contact the missing people and gently remind them about how critical they are to fixing the problems.
If you find that your presence on the Gemba Walk is not adding value, then say so. Have yourself removed from the schedule. But don't simply stop going.