As you are likely aware, a “Waste Walk” is a planned visit to where work is being performed (often referred to as gemba) to observe what’s happening and to note the waste. In many organizations Waste Walks have primarily taken place in manufacturing, warehouse or shop-floor environments; and certainly there is much to be gained by “going to gemba” in these areas.
However, while Waste Walks are most often put into practice within the above-mentioned areas, many that take place in other organizational areas have also proven to be extremely worthwhile, as we discussed with our Partners in Improvement groups.
For example, a supply chain management company used these walks as a way of solving a recurring order-processing problem that had become a hot issue with one of their mid-sized customer locations. They involved a number of their team members, including representatives from management, customer service and their CI group. It worked out so well that they now do Waste Walks at customer sites on a regular basis. Not only do the teams solve problems and make design changes in ways that benefit both parties, but their relationships with these customers have also grown significantly, which has boosted revenue and customer retention.
Based on the success of gemba or Waste Walks at customer locations, the company has recently started conducting them with suppliers, and anticipates similar positive results.
Other companies send their employees to observe how their own customers use their products and to look for complexities, errors, of troubles that the products cause the customers. Having done that, the employees are able to look at their own work through a different lens, and see more opportunities for Improvement.
In the retail sector, one company conducted a series of Waste Walks during their inventory season, watching and documenting the process at different stores. While some best-practices were certainly documented during the Waste Walks at the top performing sites, the greatest gains were made during Waste Walks at the stores in which performance was traditionally mediocre, where, as a result of the initiative, average cycle time was cut in half!
Even though Waste Walks are used less frequently in areas where the work is “less visible,” such as administrative offices, purchasing departments, and R&D labs, some of the greatest opportunities reside in these places. When the work is less visible, the Waste Walk team needs to ask many more questions of the people doing the work in order to learn what they are doing and to gain valuable insights
During one of our Partners discussions, CI leaders agreed with this perspective and identified some best practices for conducting a waste walk in an office environment, which included:
- Communicating in advance with the people whose work will be reviewed, making sure to let them know the intent is not to take on a “big brother” approach, but rather to interact and learn from the workers themselves —the people closest to the work!
- Communicating openly and in a “two-way” fashion during the waste walk. Administrative work can not really be understood by simply observing; the waste walk team must ask questions and engage in a bi-directional dialog with the office workers and thus learn about obstacles and challenges faced by those workers.
- Focusing on the process rather than the tools. It can be easy to conclude that the best opportunities for improvement involve investing in new IT solutions or software programs.
- Quantifying the opportunities for improvement and following-up with the office personnel afterward to share what was learned and to discuss specific steps for improvement.
- Measuring gains and celebrating wins!