Posted by: Knightbird | January 23, 2012

Gemba Walk

Gemba, or waste walks, are a valuable tool for teaching beginning lean learners how to look for waste. I had the pleasure of doing a Gemba walk with 4 individuals from a sister health organization last week. We looked at a short process that involved walking from a workstation to a fax machine; approximately 8 additional work stations to both drop off and pick up paper with a return to the original workstation. The operator then moved to another workstation to input the paper into an electronic record through a scanner.

The walk took approximately 5 minutes and happens 5 times a day, on average. The work is rotated among 3 staff by week. Each staff member stated that they each did the work in different ways. The waste clue here is the lack of standard work. The walk is another indication of waste through batching and motion. Some of the received faxes were over length, another waste of overproduction.

So how can you identify waste and its impact on workflow? Ordinarily I would recommend gathering data over a period of time. With data you can analyze workflow like this. A 5-minute walk 5 minutes a day equates to 25 minutes of walking a day, or 125 minutes a week. 240 annual workdays equals 6,000 minutes of walking. That’s 12 ½ days of work given an 8-hour workday. I believe all 12 1/2 days can be eliminated quite easily.

What are the solutions to the problem? I try and stress to Gemba walkers accompanying me that the improvements MUST be delegated to the workers in the value stream. They can be guided by a sensei in Kaizen, but the solutions must be theirs. You may ask why? As an experienced lean practitioner, I can come in and map the improvements for the value team. But the improvements most likely will not be sustainable. If the team makes the improvements, they own the improvements. They will write up the standard work and work to it. New employees will train to standard work, and the workplace will gain 12 ½ days of productivity annually.

What the Gemba walk also alerted me to is tremendous volumes of additional waste in the observable value streams, which I won’t get into here. I didn’t ask individuals in these other value streams about their activities. However, I asked enough questions to realize that there are a few years of waste in this workplace. 4 years of waste equate to 7,680 hours of work given 8-hour days over 240 annual workdays. Wouldn’t you like to capture the value of that waste? It can be done.

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