Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Gemba walks, popularized by Taiichi Ohno of Toyota, refers to the management style of going to the actual workplace to see the actual process, understand the work, ask questions, and learn directly from the people executing the job. This has always been a personal management style that I practice and is something that I always try to imbibe with my team. As IT professionals, I believe that we can learn more about our users, customers, and employees and really understand their pain-points by going out there in the field to experience what they are experiencing, specifically on the technology platforms that we expect them to use; which in turn, we expect to bring efficiencies to our organizations. What if they don't? What if the users are not using them the way they should? What if there are processes that need to be adjusted first to maximize the benefit of the tool? What if these platforms are not really addressing the limitations they are supposed to address? As we all know and as Dr. Goldratt puts it, “Technology can only bring benefits if and only if it diminishes a limitation.”
But how can we effectively do Gemba’s safely in this difficult time of COVID-19? Platforms such as MS Teams, Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, among other remote collaboration tools, have definitely helped in the process; but admit it or not — it is not as effective. I believe that hearing, feeling, and experiencing is what sticks. It’s all physiological: people tend to remember things because of emotions. Thanks to the amygdala, which is responsible for processing memory, decision-making, and emotional responses (including fear, anxiety, and aggression). The amygdala is the diamond-shaped part of the brain responsible for remembering things based on the good and bad experiences we go through. Communing with the people on-site and feeling what they feel will give us the empathy that will help us in making those important design considerations on UX (User Experience), CX (Customer Experience), and EX (Employee Experience). The common denominator among these things is “experience” — defined as the practical contact with or observation of facts or events processed by the amygdala. I could not imagine how one can effectively design UX, CX, and EX without getting out there in the field and get that experience. Those who can — are perhaps lying to themselves. Again, I would keep repeating this, “we can no longer hide behind our desks and develop things according to our limited imaginations, then expect a breakthrough to happen.”
Gemba, GSA’s (Go See Act), and VFL’s (Visible Felt Leadership) are all rooted in the same principle and have the same core objectives, that is to have:
1. In-depth understanding of the root cause of a specific problem, usually by identifying bottlenecks, procedural breakdowns, malpractices, wastes, and bad systems — with the intent to perform targeted actions to address them.
2. Bilateral engagement - with executives taking time to really understand and feel the real issues on-site, employees at the shop-floor will become more engaged since they can genuinely feel that they are being heard. Executives, on the other hand, would have a bigger understanding of the issues by putting themselves in the shoes of their employees; they would have a better insight of what is really happening based on their own personal assessment, rather than second or third-hand information that can sometimes be diluted in the process.
3. Results - delivering the expected result is key. Gemba, GSA, and VFL’s focus must be directed towards targeted actions to deliver the desired results. All physical visits or remote collaboration meetings would be futile if there are no consensus, agreements, or actions that yields to the improvement and betterment of the current state.
Post Gemba, leaders are expected to “walk the talk”. Leaders who just “talk the talk but does not walk the walk” loses credibility and respect. What was agreed upon, must be carried-out. Your words/commitments and actions as a leader must jibe — as people will judge you based on what you actually do, rather than on what you say you will do.