The Gemba Walk – A Tool For IT Management and Leadership

A management technique known as “The Gemba Walk” is about getting managers and leadership out of their offices and into the workplace. An Information Technology department by nature is in a constant state of change. For this reason a Gemba walk is a good way for IT managers and leaders to stay in touch with everything that goes on in the workplace.

The idea behind the post “The Keys to Successful IT Service Management – ITPS” is that people run IT departments. A Gemba walk is a technique that can help you deal with the problems that arise every day and be more effective at managing the people who solve them.

The Gemba Walk

walk My introduction to the Gemba walk came from the book Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense Low-Cost Approach to Management? by Masaaki Imai. In it he wrote “The worst thing a manager can do is live in a world isolated from gemba”.

Gemba (genba) is a Japanese word that means “the real place”. In management terms Gemba is the workplace, the place where value is added and the work of the business is done. While it may be where you work, Gemba is not your desk. Gemba is where the people who run an IT department work.

In the post “Why Management Should Go to Gemba” I wrote “If you seek solutions to problems that need to be fixed, go to Gemba. If you want to see the work behind the reports, go to Gemba. If you want to show leadership, go to Gemba. Go to where the work is performed and observe and engage with those who do it.”

I do a Gemba walk several times a day to help me stay on top of what is going on. By walking through the department, talking with people, observing the work and the workplace I am aware of everything that is going on at that time.

Why You Should Do It

  • It helps you build relationships with those who do the work. Getting to know them on a personal basis and helping them to do their job better is vital to team building and team effectiveness.
  • By talking with people you can find out about any problems they are having and take care of them. W. Edwards Deming, a brilliant teacher of business effectiveness once wrote “If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.”
  • It breaks down barriers between management and the people they manage. Even if you have an open door policy sometimes people are reluctant to come to you.
  • It allows you to praise people for the good work that they do. One of the biggest complaints employees have is they feel that their work is not appreciated or recognized by management. Use this time to thank people when they do good work. It lets them know that both they valued and the work that they do is important. This is a great morale booster.
  • You can be sure the work that needs to be done is getting done. If not then you can clearly communicate the goals and objectives face-to-face.
  • By being visible you can increase the discipline of team members. Knowing that you could come around the corner at any time cuts down on non-work related activities which increases productivity. When you see people are standing around talking walk up and join the conversation. If it is work related you may be able to help. If it is not the cluster will usually dissolve before you even get there. If not, engage them about their work as a reminder of what they should be doing.

How You Should Do It

  • Look at your schedule and set aside one or more times during each day when you can do a Gemba walk. At the start of the workday is the best time to be sure team members are engaged in their work and to learn of the issues of the day. Pick different times if possible so everyone does not know when to expect you.
  • Grab your best friends for time and problem management, your paper list and pen. During your walk write down anything that needs to be taken care of or that you want to remember.
  • Don’t walk around like the management police. This is supposed to be a productive engagement, not checking up on everyone.
  • When you get back to your office take your notes and follow-up on them. Write down any additional items you want to remember or that need to be done. Take care of any problems you found right away. If someone had a problem, let them know when it has been taken care of.
  • If you keep a personal log for those you manage (great idea) record praises and kudos’s as well as any discipline issues you discussed.

The job of a manager is to manage and one can not manage if they are not engaged in the work and with the people who do the work. Get up and get out of your office several times a day. It will improve your relationship with your team and productivity.