Following on from our article about Lean Leadership (https://www.ad-esse.com/articles/lean-leader/) we have had lots of people talking to us about the leadership practice of observing the front line. We refer to this practice as ‘Go & See’ walks. Some literature you may read will refer to these activities as Gemba Walks, from the Japanese meaning the place where work happens. Anyone serious about driving successful transformation will need to make Go & See walks a regular feature of their week. The Lean Lexicon (5th Edition) defines Gemba Walks as: “A management practice for grasping the current situation through direct observation and inquiry before taking action.”
When we talk to organisations about Go & See it is often followed by a swift declaration that this is already done. When this is probed further, what individuals are actually doing is more general management workplace observations, sometimes known as ‘Management by Walking Around’ (MBWA) or ‘Day in the Life Of ‘(DILO) walks. These are unstructured exercises and are as much about being seen as they are about seeing what’s happening. Neither is necessarily a bad practice, in fact they are very useful and we encourage them in conjunction with Go & See walks, but this article is specifically about the benefits and practice of Go & See. It should also be noted that this again is different to process confirmation, which we have written about at length previously.
So what is Go & See?
The goal of a Go & See walk is to examine the current state of a particular process by observing it in action at the place where it occurs. They are planned in advance, so you know which part of the organisation you are going to be observing and which process you are focusing on.
The leader completing the walk should take any procedures or process notes that exist for the process with them. The aim of a Go & See walk is not to find solutions or take immediate actions when problems are observed, but rather to identify opportunities for improvement and get a shared understanding of your current state of operations. Remember the purpose of the exercise is not to become an expert in how to deliver the process, but rather to understand the work itself.
How is it done?
During a Go & See walk, the manager asks very in-depth questions about the process being observed such as:
- What is the purpose of this process?
- Who is responsible for it?
- Is this process achieving its purpose and, if not, in what ways is it failing?
- What are the causes of these failures?
- How are the people touching the process consulted and engaged in improvement?
- Are there process standards in place? If so are these being followed? And if not why not?
Start with these basic questions but follow the line of enquiry whilst you are completing the exercise. You will probably develop questions in your own specific sector or organisational terminology over time.
Once the walk is complete a period of reflection follows. Issues uncovered during the walk are considered both in terms of what they mean for the local operation, and for the strategic objectives of the organisation.
The last stage is to complete a problem-solving exercise involving representative of every team impacted by the problem or solution. The exercise should follow the classic Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle where the problem root cause is uncovered, solutions proposed, solutions implemented to test, results and impact is checked, necessary amendments made, and lastly, the successful solutions is rolled out fully and recorded as the new standard.
Why do it?
In two words – continuous improvement. Opportunities for improvement are easier to spot from the workplace than from an office, and sometimes the obstacles observed by managers cannot be overcome or resolved by the employee. These can be flagged and progressed by the manager in an appropriate way. When done correctly the Go & See walks are incredibly empowering for employees as it gives them the opportunity to engage in identifying opportunities for improvement and implementing them, rather than waiting for a manager to solve problems for them.
Secondary benefits from the Go & See walks include:
- The reinforcement of management commitment to continuous improvement
- It creates a healthy relationship based on mutual respect between staff and managers
- Managers have the opportunity to recognise staff achievements
- The results of past improvement efforts can be seen.