Gemba Walks, Kaizen the Elvis way…..”walk a mile in my shoes”

This is a prelude to a post on the Gemba Mat improvement technique I saw used an IdeasUK networking event at Ricoh in Telford. Gemba Mat is a beautifully straightforward and effective improvement and employee engagement approach that is worthy of a build-up so I’ll leave you in anticipation.

Gemba is a version of the Japanese term Genba that translates as “the real place”. In the world of Kaizen and continuous improvement it’s come to mean the work place; the factory floor, the hospital ward, sales floor or where a service provider interacts directly with the service user or customer.

The basic idea is that problems within a process or system will be visible, so the best place to go and look for solutions or improvements is the Gemba or workplace. Taking time to carefully look at the work process, as it happens, will help you to see what needs improving. Two things stand out here for me:

  • Dedicated time is spent focusing upon the work to identify improvements; and
  • It’s done at the workplace: not in a meeting room, on an ‘away day’, via a focus group or a survey of staff.

The Gemba Walk is just an extension of this idea where people walk around the work place, gaining understanding and looking for improvements.

It doesn’t have to just apply to a manufacturing environment. This post from the IT Managers Inbox  gives some clear advice on how to carry out Gemba Walks as an IT service provider.  “Gemba is not your desk”. “If you seek solutions to problems that need to be fixed, go to Gemba. If you want to see the work behind the reports, go to Gemba. If you want to show leadership, go to Gemba. Go to where the work is performed and observe and engage with those who do it……Gemba Walk is a technique that can help you deal with the problems that arise every day and be more effective at managing the people who solve them”.

When you sit back and think about it Gemba Walks could be seen as having some similarities with time and motion studies, back to the floor exercises (much-loved by the reality TV people) and MBWA. Management by walking around (MBWA) is often mentioned in the same breath as Gemba Walk (see the Wikipedia article). However I think that the emphasis of these approaches can miss the importance of employee engagement. For me it’s not just about managers seeing something that needs improving, and getting someone else to do it. The real positive for me is the prospect of the people doing the job, getting involved and doing it themselves, a key part of employee engagement. More about this in the Ricoh Gemba Mat post.

So, what has Elvis got to do with Gemba Walks you might be wondering? Well it seemed obvious to me, if you want to understand what someone else is doing “walk a mile in their shoes”.  There are probably some more heavyweight scholarly things I could have quoted for this, but I do very much like the idea of ‘doing Kaizen the Elvis way’ (and a link to this Elvis song pleases my wife). The lyrics are well worth a read but the chorus goes:

“Yeah, before you abuse, criticize or accuse,

Walk a mile in my shoes”. .

Just sing it loud next time you are out in the Gemba.

So what’s the PONT?

  1. To improve a process or solve a problem it helps to ‘walk a mile in the shoes’ of the people who operate it.
  2. Managers being visible and walking around the shop floor / work place / Gemba will help their understanding of what happens, and improve their decision making.
  3. Visibility will also help to improve reputation with the troops.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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