As noted in our previous post, gemba or waste walks are effective ways of identifying waste and opportunities for improvement. Generally speaking, efforts-to-date 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.
For example, during one waste walk n a manufacturing area, those involved focused on process constraints, and identified several bottlenecks and, ultimately, solutions that increased overall capacity; in another similar setting the gemba team was able to separate value added work from that which was non-value added, and then created data images to document the changes they believed would maximize the former and eliminate the latter.
Taking a slightly different twist, one manufacturer’s gemba team pre-selects a theme each month, such as safety or process inefficiencies, and during the walk they search for activities or process steps that impact the theme.
However, while waste walks are most often put into practice within the above mentioned areas, many that take place in other organizational areas have proven most worthwhile.
For example, a supply chain management company used waste 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 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 go back to their own gemba 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 gemba or 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.