Gemba is a Japanese term which means “the real place”. The term “Gemba walk” is used to describe one’s personal observation of where work takes its course. Gemba walks are an essential part of the Lean practitioner’s toolkit and an efficient way of understanding functions that are lacking. Gemba walks also provide the opportunity to coach employees. Jim Womack, the author of Gemba Walks describes it as: “I just take walks, comment on what I see and give courage to people to try”.
In any organization, systems that are measurable are managed. However, there are occurrences that can’t be measured solely through statistics, and it’s upon managers to verify and review these occurrences to delve deeper into the causes that initiate them. For example, in a manufacturing setup, to suggest the right solution often means finding out the root cause of problems on the ground.
This concept stresses:
- In-person observation
- Observing where the work is being done
- Interacting with the people and process in a spirit of “change for the better”
Gemba Walks may resemble the management by walking around (MBWA) strategy suggested by Hewlett Packard. Gemba walks demonstrate visible commitment from the leadership to all members of the organization.
How does ‘Gemba Walk’ help in solving problems?
1. Live problem-solving:
Gemba walks inculcate the habit of leaders going to the shop floor and working directly with the operators. In manufacturing organizations that have imbibed this culture, management and operators can work through problems and understand core issues through discussion. Gemba Walks diminish the distance between operators and the management. The focus shifts to solving problems real-time rather than just problem-solving.
2. Engaged Leadership
Toyota realizes that the commitment and actions of leaders can influence an entire operation. The company developed the Gemba Walk to give managers and executives the chance to visit the production floor and understand how any specific operation is carried out. This in-person review of operations allows leaders to see the difference between their ‘assumptions’ and ‘reality’. It also gives them an opportunity to interact with the operators and see exactly where work is done, as opposed to visualizing the environment from a conference room.
3. Getting Employee Buy-In:
Gemba Walks can have a dramatic impact on a manufacturing setup. By closely observing “the place where value is created” and listening to shop floor operators, operational managers, and engineers, leaders get an informed perspective on their business. Leaders possessing first-hand knowledge of actual operations and issues can provide directions to bettering their products and services for customers.
Maximizing the benefits of Gemba through Beacons:
A beacon is a Bluetooth radio transmitting device. It is compact, inexpensive, and powered by a battery. iBeacon is an Apple technology that allows iOS and Android devices to receive signals from beacons in a physical space. The iBeacon technology allows Mobile Apps to understand their indoor location and delivers contextual content to users based on location. The technology used for communication is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Eddystone is a BLE format developed by Google. It’s an open platform that can be used with both Android and iOS devices.
Beacons are now being used for more diverse use cases such as asset and people tracking. Eddystone beacons can additionally:
1.Create the Physical Web. What this means is that one can walk up to a “smart” object or place and be able to immediately interact with it or more learn about it via a web page—without the need for an app.
2.Send context-sensitive information. Beacons can identify the location of a user with a Bluetooth enabled smartphone device and send the user relevant information.
Gemba walks facilitate stand-up style meetings on the shop floor. They tend to be much shorter, more efficient, and decisions are often made quickly. Therefore, to make Gemba Walks efficient, leaders need all necessary information at hand. The beacon technology facilitates this; the typical implementation in a factory setting is to mount beacon devices throughout the indoor space and use them to automatically identify a user/object’s location in the set proximity.
During a Gemba walk, leaders are then able to receive real-time data on production, productivity of the operators, projects, machine downtime and much more, as and when they walk through various work stations. Beacons use both the physical web and contextual information features of Eddystone beacons to make the activity effective.