Gemba walks are an essential Lean leader tool within the design and construct of the Arizona Management System. Gemba is a Japanese term that means “the real place,” and within the language of Lean, gemba is where the value-adding work takes place.*
Gemba refers to the intentional opportunities that all leaders must take to go and see how the work is actually being done by employees using their standard work processes and to humbly ask them questions to better understand why things are done as they are.
There is nothing passive about AMS. For the system to be effective, staff must perform their processes with disciplined adherence to standard work using Lean tools of visual management and problem solving. Leaders must go see the work as it is being done and talk with their people to deeply understand the observable truth surrounding the health of the process. Leaders can’t possibly assess how well the business is performing without seeing it firsthand.
There simply is no substitute for this interaction and dialogue within AMS. While it does take effort, going to the gemba yields tremendous benefits for both leaders and team members. Both parties learn something new by observing and communicating about the abnormalities in a team’s processes.
Moreover, as is true for 1:1 coaching, gemba walks effectively build and sustain employee engagement by enabling meaningful sharing, bonding and improvement around the employee’s contributions to advancing the agency mission.
For gemba walks to be effective, ideally the workplace would be visual and standard work would exist for many core processes so that leaders can see if processes are performing as expected and humbly ask probing questions to understand why abnormality or underperformance occurs.
But this partnership requires trust. The agreement is that team members will follow standard work and surface problems, and leaders will use each interaction to build the problem solving muscle of their teams. There can be no blame or reprisals. Short of this, AMS won’t succeed, and leaders will have engendered distrust and bad behavior in their teams - precisely opposite of where we want to go in our journey of continuous improvement and building an engaged workforce.
Our success depends on ensuring the vital and necessary Lean behaviors are faithfully executed and constantly reinforced.
* The concepts discussed here are found in greater detail in Joe Murli’s The Lean Management System. Joe is an internationally recognized Lean practitioner who also is helping deploy the Arizona Management System in our agencies.
To date, the italicized elements shown here have been featured in AMS In Focus.