Gemba Walks…Don’t Forget to Teach!

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We’ve all experienced the importance of gemba walks and know they are an absolute necessity for a lean enterprise.  There are many posts and sights that detail this importance for a transformation and also speak about “good” gemba walk practices.  However, there are a few bad habits that I find myself and others slipping into quite easily.

Much like Bruce talking about teaching the why in his previous post, we mustn’t forget to teach the how as well when we find undesirable gemba conditions, especially early on in a lean transformation.  How many times have you seen a front line supervisor getting dressed down for a process condition, but not given the proper education to actually fix the situation in the way we desire?  How many times have you been that person?

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When we don’t teach how 5S would help material FIFO which in turn would reduce several wastes, but just “rip” the supervisor when we find non-FIFO are we respecting humanity?  Are we building the organization for success?  Is this managing by fear effective?  Maybe short term but absolutely not in the long term.  The majority of times this happens, I see the people who took the beating just “muscle” the problem away and not create a long term solution.  Eventually in the next couple of weeks or months the problem just drifts back because we got chewed out for another problem elsewhere in the gemba where we had to focus our muscle!

So now that we remember that its important to teach the how, we must also remember its important to teach the how in the form of a process we want followed, not the actual solution!  Again, in order to grow a long term lean enterprise, we must allow people to deeply understand the problem on their own and coach them into a solution, not just tell them the solution!


We may find some violation of FIFO rules on a walk, but we must be reserved spouting off an actual solution on the spot.  “I want 5S right hear with part A in FIFO lanes pointing this direction….”  Remember the process of understanding the problem and then implementing an elegant solution.  A better way may be to suggest that 5S has solved this type of problem in the past, but encourage the process owner to study the problem and see if a similar 5S solution will be an appropriate solution!

Again, if you are looking to build a long term lean enterprise, don’t forget to teach and allow for learning experiences with your gemba walks.  If you are just looking to improve the process in the short term so you can be promoted to your next position, managing by fear may be the route for you!


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4 Responses

  1. Nicely written entry, Bryan, and I agree with your philosophy wholeheartedly. What helps me understand it better, I think, is that I was in education for a number of years before I went into manufacturing. The emphasis in education, of course, is to LEARN, and the teachers (well, many of them, anyway) are patient while we learn. In manufacturing – at least in AMERICAN manufacturing – the emphasis is to just go out and solve the problem to make money. What one learns is irrelevant. “Just let me see the dollars.” It’s all about the $$$. In fact, I was once mocked by a manager who criticized me for emphasizing a change in behavior instead of just punishment. He said, “This isn’t about “enlightenment.” I responded by saying, “What good is your system if you haven’t changed their behavior?” Eventually he agreed, but it took some time.

  2. The best way I’ve heard this said, by one of the more clued-in senior leaders at one our clients’ factories is:

    “Go see, but always with purpose.”

    In other words, don’t just wander around and “be seen” during your gemba walk, be there to learn, teach, expose problems etc.

  3. […] Gemba Walks… Don’t Forget to Teach! dal blog Lean is Good di Bryan Zeigler: Interessanti insegnamenti da applicare nel gemba (traduzione automatica) […]

  4. Hi,
    I strongly agree that we have to remember to teach at gemba walks. As a consultant I have visited many companies and many of them see their gemba walks at an audit – to make sure everybody follows the Lean standards.
    To see if standards are followed is a part of a gemba walk, but I agree that teaching is an even more important part!

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