Gemba walks and management standard
A gemba walk is a management routine in which managers at all levels systematically go and see in person what is happening in daily work, without relying – to make their decisions- on guesswork and abstract assumptions.
Of course, every business leader knows that the ability to "short-circuit" the business decision-making process by moving down to lower levels through direct observation is essential to understand the reality, anticipate trends and prevent problems or solve them as soon as possible. However, what Lean Thinking proposes is the adoption of a disciplined, systematic and widespread application of these behaviours (and a division of labour between the management levels in implementing it) in order to always have the overall situation under control through factual data, with management verifying information firsthand.
In short, the gemba walks are one of the elements of management standard work. Management standard work is a set of routines (for example, standardized work audits using kamishibai boards, daily huddle meetings, KPIs board reviews, X-matrix and A3 reviews, etc.) that is centered on periodical, structured visits and conversations in plants, technical departments, warehouses, offices and call centers.
The assumption is that the best place to gather the data necessary to make decisions is not meeting rooms with colourful PowerPoint presentations or spreadsheets with often illegible numbers, but in the gemba where problems pop up and ideas are translated into artefacts, into solutions to market needs.
Gemba walks also often have symbolic meaning for business leaders: returning to the purpose of their firm, rediscovering the meaning of what they do, watching how people and processes generate value for stakeholders and finding opportunities to reflect on them.
Taking a gemba walk also means to respect everybody’s work, also and especially the most humble, and placing work at the centre of the business and thus of the economy and society.
In essence, managing through gemba walks implies returning to basing management on facts, on reality, on the work of people, on the application of the scientific method to solving problems to improve the business. Remaining anchored to the gemba is the secret of Lean Thinking and the antidote to management based on data bureaucracy, chance, on superstition or ideology because as Alexis Carrel, Nobel Prize for medicine in 1912, said "A few observations and much reasoning lead to error; many observations and a little reasoning to truth".