Many companies today use the concept of gemba to help identify areas within a manufacturing facility where improvements in efficiency can be made. The term gemba is Japanese in origin and means, “the real place.” When used in the context of manufacturing or business, this typically refers to the place where value is created, such as the factory floor.
For manufacturing areas a gemba walk is a common practice where managers and others in the facility walk through the place where value is added. For example, a gemba walk may go along the production line to ensure things are operating the way they should. This would include identifying procedures and making sure they are followed as well as identifying waste and finding ways to have it eliminated.
The idea of gemba walks in a manufacturing facility are very well established and there is a lot of information about them to review. For gemba in the office, however, it can be much more difficult. While there is not as much information about this practice, it can still be extremely effective.
Whether you are new to gemba in general, or you have used it for other areas of a company and are looking to learn more about gemba in the office, the following information will help give you some great ideas and strategies that can make your effort a success.
Identify Gemba Locations
As mentioned above, gemba means ‘the real place’ and can refer to the place where value is created. In an office there can be many locations where value is added that you will need to take a look at. Review the following examples of gemba in many offices and see which ones apply to your company:
Meeting Rooms – While many people complain that meetings are a waste of time, they can produce enormous value when done right.
Computer Programs – This is not a physical location but rather a virtual one. The fact is, however, that many computer programs are the location where value is added to an office environment.
Cubicles – The cubicles, or individual workstations, in an office are often the location where employees can add a lot of value to the jobs they are assigned to.
As you can see, the gemba in an office are going to be dramatically different than with other types of work environments. Understanding and accepting this is an important first step in bringing gemba to your office. Take a few minutes to write a list of all the places within your office where value is truly added so that you have a place to start when planning out your gemba strategies.
Looking for Waste
One of the most important parts of any gemba process is identifying waste in the area where value is supposed to be being added. The general categories of waste are going to be basically the same in both manufacturing facilities and office spaces, but the specific examples of waste within each category can be dramatically different.
When doing gemba in the office, make sure you have a list of the different types of waste you might expect to see. The following are a few common types of waste that are going to be most commonly found in an office environment. Take this list and add specific examples from your office so you can reference it while doing a gemba walk in the office.
Wasted Time in Meetings – Many offices have scheduled meetings that people attend whether they are strictly needed or not. Any meeting that is not adding a specific value should be canceled to help improve efficiency.
Wasted Paper – While offices have doing a great job in reducing the amount of paper they use over the years, a lot is still wasted. In most cases you can view and share documents on a computer without having to print them.
Over Reporting – If there is one thing that offices are famous for in terms of waste it is over reporting. While reporting can be very important, many offices go way overboard in the types of things they require reports on. Take a look at every report your office generates and see what value it is actually adding.
Walking – People in offices often get up and walk to another cubical to talk to co-workers about a problem. There is no doubt that communicating is often a big part of adding value, but in many cases there is no need to walk through the office. When possible, use modern communication options such as instant messengers, phones or email.
Automation – When people think of automation they typically think only of how machines have helped to automate the manufacturing industry. Automation in an office environment, however, can be just as valuable. Using computer programs to automate tasks that people would otherwise have to complete can be an excellent way to improve efficiency and eliminate waste.
There are, of course, many other specific examples of waste that you will be able to find in most facilities. When on a gemba walk in the office make sure you are always on the lookout for any type of waste that can be reduced or eliminated.
Gemba: Find the source of waste with Gemba Walks.
Gemba, or “the real place,” is where value gets created at your business. A Gemba Walk is the Lean manufacturing method that requires management to head to the production floor to see how processes are actually working. This guide explains the importance of Gemba and how to prepare for your very own Gemba walk.
In order to get the most out of gemba in the office you will want to make sure you are scheduling walks on a regular basis. Depending on the size of the office you are managing you can either complete a walk of the entire area in one day or else split it up over time.
Many companies choose to do an office gemba walk through one department at a time, which allows them to focus on smaller areas. In many cases this is a good idea as it can lead to more immediate and measurable results for the area in question.
However you decide to schedule your office gemba walks, however, make sure that you are including all areas throughout the entire office. If your office spans multiple physical buildings, make sure to keep that in mind when making your schedule.
Once you get into the habit of completing office gemba walks you will find that you are able to find a steady stream of improvement opportunities throughout the area. As long as you are taking positive action on the information you gather while on the walks you will be able to have measurable improvements on a very regular basis. These improvements can help you to plan and implement further gemba strategies in your office.
What is Value?
Throughout this page the idea of value has been one of the main themes. This is, of course, because the idea of gemba in the office centers on finding where the value is generated and working to make improvements. With that in mind, it is a good idea to conclude by summing up what exactly value is in this context.
Value is defined as anything that the customers will pay for, which then means that waste is anything that your office does that the customers will not pay for. Use these definitions whenever using gemba in the office and you will be able to identify inefficiencies quickly and help to improve the way your office runs.