A Process Walk, also known as a Gemba Walk, consists of a team of people walking a Value Stream together. The Japanese word “Gemba” translates to, “go to the real place.” This means go to where the work is being performed, even if that work is performed in cubicles. Process Walkers follow the path of the “thing” moving through the process. This “thing” is the unit moving through the process.
Typical units might be:
- an application
- a work order
- or a product
As Process Walkers walk the process, they interview the people who work within the process, and they see what happens to the “thing.” This is generally an eye-opening experience because Process Walkers see the end-to-end view of the whole process rather than the usual siloed view from where they sit in the process.
The primary objectives of a Process Walk are to:
- Build profound knowledge of the current state of the process
- Cut across functional areas and silos to understand the whole end-to-end process versus isolated pieces of the process
- Follow the horizontal flow across departments
- Identify redundancies, bottlenecks and waste in the process
Process Walks can be done two ways:
- With key cross-functional leaders in a Value Stream Mapping session
- At a process level, with the people that perform the process work
Process Walks are 3 to 5 consecutive day events with 6 to 12 team members. There should be representation from all functional areas of the process.
Perception vs. Reality
In order to improve a process it is important to understand what the current process really is, versus what we think it is.
Often, process improvement is done without having a true understanding of the current process. This can lead to frustration and more problems! A Process Walk helps everyone see the process at the same point in time, across all functions. This helps build mutual understanding around process issues that each group encounters and allows teams to move forward in a more unified fashion.
There are usually some immediate quick wins generated from the walk that can be implemented right away. Because everyone sees the process together, getting agreement and buy-in around implementing change can be faster than usual.
4 Best Practices for Successful Process Walks
The following are a few best practices that will help you ensure your Process Walk is a success.
Best Practice #1: Focus on the process, NOT the people
The Process Walk focuses on the process flow, not the people who work in the process. One of the facilitator’s main jobs is to create a blame-free environment during the walk. A Process Walk is not a search for the guilty! The Process Walkers should NOT be pointing fingers during the walk. Workers are often victims of a poorly designed process but unfortunately they can also be blamed for that broken process.
Best Practice #2: Be a student of the process
The facilitator should ensure that Process Walkers maintain a student perspective. Walkers are trying to understand and build profound knowledge of the CURRENT state of the process. Walkers should stay curious about the process design and seek to learn. The purpose is not to “fix” the process during the walk or brainstorm solutions. The purpose is to SEE and understand the process.
Best Practice #3: Do NOT correct the interviewees during the walk
The purpose of the walk is not to see if people are following procedure. The walk is not about “correcting” people. Sometimes we find that a step is done incorrectly, and this should be handled later. A Process Walk is NOT the forum to correct the workers. Remember, the point of the walk is to understand current state. If anyone is publicly shamed, they will be less likely to share their process knowledge.
Best Practice #4: Do NOT bring the written procedure on the walk
Again, the goal is to find out what is REALLY happening, not what is SUPPOSED to happen. Workers may not be following the written procedure and there could be many legitimate reasons for this: the procedure might be outdated, inaccurate, or poorly written. Often procedures are re-written after a process walk, because the team gains valuable insight on how to change the process.
A Successful Process Walk Has Many Benefits
With the right facilitation, Process Walks can bring teams closer together and increase the willingness to improve the process together. Participating in Process Walks can be an eye-opening, engaging and an empowering experience.