5 Steps to make your Gemba walks successful

Many Reliability and Maintenance improvement initiatives fail to deliver sustainable (and continuously improving) results in improved safety, manufacturing throughput, and costs.

There are many reasons for this, but the lack of engaged, visible, and caring plant leadership is the most common of them.

Doing regular Gemba walks, which takes management to the front lines to see firsthand what improvement opportunities exist, is an excellent way for a leader to demonstrate engagement.

You are visible and show you care. This is key to successfully improving your maintenance organizations’ performance and delivering continuously better results.

Gemba, sometimes spelled Genba, is Japanese for “where things happen,” or “the real place.”

It can be anything from an actual crime scene to the context of an RMM organization, where planners, front-line leaders, coordinators, engineers, and craftspeople close to the manufacturing floor make things happen.

They execute your initiatives, such as preventive maintenance, work management, stores organization including, delivery and “kitting” of parts and material, and many more improvements. And if they do not execute your plan, all you got is a plan.

As leaders, we are often pressed for time, but carving out this type of time is crucial. Remember- improving reliability and maintenance is 90% about people, so it’s important that you are visible and available.

If you organize and schedule Gemba walks well, you will find that it does not have to take much time. You will also find it interesting and rewarding when you see the appreciation and improvements.

I suggest the following steps for your Gemba walks initiative:

  1. Organize and plan
  2. Inform
  3. Observe and learn
  4. Ask questions, meet face to face
  5. Act and Follow up

1. Organize

Depending on the size of the maintenance organization, the plant manager might do a Gemba walk once a quarter per production area. Operations and maintenance managers might do the walk together once a month in their respective areas. Supervisors should do it weekly.

Set up an improvement activity to focus on for each walk. Do not include things already on your meeting agendas. No need for duplication.

If you have assessed and identified the gaps you need to close, it can serve as a setup- and focus guide, for each walk. This will most likely include the following areas to improve upon.

• Lubrication practices
• Precision maintenance practices
• Basic inspections and predictive technology
• Work management
• Storeroom management

There can be other areas, but as good maintenance always requires—the basics must be executed well before you will be in a position to move towards excellence. Most plants I work with need to focus on the areas mentioned above.

In a small plant the Gemba walk could include several improvement areas, while it will be necessary to select one or two focus areas in a bigger plant. Try to limit the “Observe and learn” and the “Ask questions, meet face to face” to 30 minutes each. These steps can be done the same day or at different days.

2. Inform

When you organize and plan your Gemba walk, it is very important to share why and how with those involved.

If you, as a plant, maintenance or operations manager, have a habit to be visible on the manufacturing floor and often talk with the front-line people, the Gemba walks will help organize your visits towards defined and selected improvement areas.

For front-line leaders this is of course not much of an issue as you work closely with your people daily. If you, as a manager have kept a distance to the front-line organization (The RMM Gemba), it may be a welcome change. If your visibility was limited in the past, your appearance may be associated with trouble. This will change when people understand why and what the Gemba walks mean to the whole organization.

3. Observe and learn

Before you do “Ask questions, meet face to face” walks—visit the chosen production area you will observe and study the equipment so you can ask the right questions. The first time you do this walk and prepare questions, it might take a bit more time.

If you chose Lubrication practices in one area you should look at:

  • Blown out seals indicating too much grease.
  • Use of tools to measure grease volume on grease guns.
  • Clean tools and grease points.
  • Oil levels in gears, pumps etc.
  • Keep oil level indicators clean to see levels and color of oil.
  • Right oil levels marked.
  • Lubricant type marked with a symbol.
  • Lubrication stores clean and organized.
  • Air breathers/filters installed where needed. Change in color?
  • Leaks.
  • Long grease lines for manual greasing.  

If you chose Precision maintenance practices in one area you should look at:

  • Jacking bolts installed for precision alignment.
  • Jacking bolts backed off and not pushing on alignment object.
  • More than three shims used for alignment.
  • Beat marks on equipment feet.
  • Vibrating fans and high-speed equipment.
  • Filters for mechanical seals and hydraulic fluids.

Other operating practices you should look at include if your redundant pumps are running equal time per a schedule and who is responsible for shifting the pumps according to that schedule.

For more tips on what to look for during Gemba walks take a look at our new series of Gemba videos on our website or our YouTube Channel.

4. Ask questions, meet face to face

After “Observe and learn”, you have the material to be well prepared to meet face to face and ask questions.

Meet with the people in production who are responsible for various areas like lubrication, for example. Ask open-ended questions such as: “I saw a lot of grease pushed out from the drive side bearing of the fan pump, what can we do about that?”

The answer might be: “That seal was gone a long time ago, so we need to purge out the water to save the bearing, we have asked to have it replaced many times. We also have new lubricators who have not been trained and think the more grease the better. We have also asked to get grease meters to put on the grease guns, so we know how much grease each point gets.”

Other possible questions: “What would you like to spend more or less time on?”

For the lubrication program, “What is the most important thing to improve upon?”

The discussion will teach you a lot. But perhaps more importantly is the motivation you create by being engaged, visible, and caring as a leader. This goal will only be reached if you continue these walks.

Image 1: By taking full advantage of the purpose of a Gemba walk, you will show that you are engaged, visible (accessible) and caring.

5. Act and follow up

Be prepared for suspicion. Many people have seen new improvement initiatives come and go and may not be impressed. You have to prove this will be a continuous practice.

During the Gemba walks it is important to take notes and pictures. This will take less and less time as it becomes routine. It is important to inform your people what you decided to act upon. If you decided to get the equipment lubricators needed and train all lubricators, for example, then you might want to change the damaged seals. It is equally important to share what you decided against, and why.

Well organized, the five steps of the Gemba will take a manager in a big plant about an hour per quarter/area. For operations and maintenance managers walking together it might take an hour a month per area, and front-line leaders much less time per week.

I am sure you will find it worth the time as your Safety, reliability and cost will improve.

At IDCON, we understand the pressure you face trying to build a reliable plant.
We provide side-by-side reliability and maintenance consulting and training designed to keep your equipment running.

For over 45 years, we’ve partnered with 100s of manufacturing plants around the world to eliminate the costs and the pressure caused by unreliable equipment. And we’d love to do the same for you.

Contact us today to see how we can help you keep your plant running.

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Picture of Christer Idhammar

Christer Idhammar

Founder, IDCON INC Reliability and Maintenance Management Guru

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