When you are out observing on the gemba, do something to help them. If you do, people will come to expect that you can help them and will look forward to seeing you again on the gemba.
– Taiichi Ohno
I briefly introduced you to the concept of the gemba earlier in this book. The definition is “the real place” or “where value is created” – so the production floor in a manufacturing company a surgical ward in a hospital, and so forth.
Traditional business gurus talk about MBWA – management by walking around. What is that, really? Wandering around for what reason? What does that accomplish besides perhaps provoking some fear?
Walking the gemba is different. Go to where value is being created, and do more than just walk. Observe the process. What is the ideal state? What is the standard? Is there a problem? What is causing the gap between ideal or standard and the current state? Does the area manager see the same things you do? Challenge the process. Respect your team by helping them see the gemba the way you are, and listen to them describe what they are seeing.
Use the gemba walk as a daily method to observe the process, identify areas for improvement, support kaizen, and mentor others. During problem solving, the team should be at the gemba observing the problem, not in a conference room discussing it.
In many Lean organizations you will also see managers, executives, and even presidents, with their desks at the gemba. This way they can observe it throughout the day. As I described earlier with how my own team decided to put our offices on the second floor of a new building, there are potential downsides. Our production operators and supervisors were growing rapidly, becoming independent and confident in their capabilities. We felt that by having our executive team on the shop floor we could stymie that growth, which wouldn’t be respecting people.
However consider what I witnessed at the Sheraton Hongqiao in Shanghai a few years ago. As I walked into the bustling lobby of this large hotel in one of the world’s largest cities, on the side was a desk with a man working. The sign on the desk said “General Manager.” It was Thomas Mueller, and he’d work from that desk most of the day, able to directly observe perhaps the key gemba of his operation. He welcomed questions from guests, and if he had to leave for a few minutes his assistant took over. This probably wasn’t the most productive location, but for him it was the most valuable.
Get out of the office or conference room and go and see what is happening where value is being created. And perhaps a question: where is your gemba at home or in your personal life? How can you observe it more mindfully?