In the mid 1980s, the phrase, Management By Walking About (MBWA) was made popular by a number of management gurus. The idea was that by leaving your office and walking around your domain, you would get to talk to the people who actually did the work in your organisation, say encouraging things to them, and possibly be able to resolve a couple of issues while you were there.
It was a sound concept that struck a chord with many managers (including yours-truly), but, like all ideas proposed by management consultants, it wasn’t a new idea, and the success of the approach varied depending upon how you did it, and how well you did it. When done well, it did greatly increased the level of two-way communication between leaders and staff, and prevented the filtering of information by the middle levels. It meant that decisions about problems were more fact-based, and it provided a way to increase the engagement of staff with little effort.
Those versed in Lean and Toyota Production System principles recognised MBWA as a variation of the Gemba Walk, which was a technique developed by Taiichi Ohno, one of the main developers of TPS and Lean concepts. (Gemba means ‘the place’ or ‘actual place’ in Japanese. We use the westernised version Gemba.). His approach was that leaders should spend an hour each week walking the floor with a sensei/coach who could school them in understanding how to see waste and reduce in the workplace, so that the leader could then perform the same task with the managers who worked for him, and ultimately with all the staff in his team. The aim being to ‘see’ the waste and then reduce or eliminate it.
Many Lean organisations did adopt this approach, and the benefits were indisputable. No leader is too busy to see how things are actually happening where the true customer value is added, or to engage staff in the improvement of processes that they operate daily. The approach also helped to break many barriers between hierarchies and led to a better understanding of the drivers of performance all-round.
What is Process Confirmation?
Whilst we in Ad Esse are big fans of MBWA as a way of enabling leaders to talk to staff and be aware of what is happening at the frontline, we believe that the use of leaders’ time needs to be more focused than having a general wander. We are not all born with the right combination of people skills and analytical skills that will enable us to engage staff creatively and successfully. Lean offers us a systematic way of doing MBWA or a Gemba Walk that will ensure that you engage with staff, ensure that the right things are being done in the right way, and enable you to address any waste or problems that you see.
Process Confirmation is the tool that Ad Esse builds into all the Lean for Leaders training that we deliver, as it combines the benefits of MBWA (leaders having presence and being available for staff) and the inspection and review functions that leaders need to perform to ensure performance is sustainable.
Process confirmation consists of a very simple concept, using two simple questions:
- Are your processes and procedures optimised so that they deliver value to customers with the minimum amount of waste?
- Do your staff understand the processes and policies, and do they implement them in the way they are meant to?
If the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, then your work as a leader is virtually done. If, as is almost always the case, the answer to one or both of the questions is ‘no’, then leaders have a role to either, a) improve the policies and procedures so that waste is reduced or customer needs are met, or b) find out why staff are not following your policies and procedures, and do something about it.
How to do Process Confirmation
Doing process confirmation is very simple, but you need to bear in mind that this is not a ‘Gotcha’ exercise. If people are not following policies or procedures it is unlikely to be because they have decided not to. Most of the time it is because they have been poorly trained, or they have forgotten, or they missed some information about how it needed to change, etc. As a leader you are responsible for making sure that they know how to do things and for creating procedures that help them to remember the right way to do things.
The main steps for a process confirmation are
- Pick a process or team to review – one you are concerned about, or just one that you want to understand better.
- Review all the policies, process maps, procedures and operational guides and check that the process, as defined, will actually deliver the outcomes you want as a leader. If they don’t, then get them changed so that they do. You may want to involve your staff in this process since they will have a better handle on problems that you do.
- If the policies and process look right, then spend time where that process operates. This might mean spending time in a specific part of the office, time with mobile staff – travelling with them, listening in to calls, etc. The important thing is that you should spend at least half a day there, and that you should not be passing comment or trying to change things at this point. Your aim is to observe, see if the ‘correct’ process is being followed, and identify waste, customer issues, lack of clarity or poor understanding of process. You can ask clarification questions – Does that often happen?’ – but no more during the process confirmation.
- Feedback to the staff member(s) you have been with at the end of your time. Discuss what went well, any questions about processes not followed or understood, asking them what they would want to improve, etc. Keep the tone positive and thank them for having spent the time with you.
- Put in place the steps that will address the main issues that you have identified.
You may think that staff will modify their behaviour if you are with them, and this may be true for the first hour or so, but if you spend longer than that and just observe quietly, they stop worrying about your presence and will behave as normal. They will tell you things that you are unlikely to find out any other way, and you will see and hear things that you would never have known about sat in your office.
Completing one process confirmation per month is a reasonable objective. If you think you are too busy, consider how much time it is worth spending to see if the right things are being done in the right way, and that is before you can consider the benefits of being seen to take an interest in what staff are doing, of being accessible and of enabling staff to share their experience of adding value with you.
Read more about the role of a Leader in a continuous improvement organisation here.