skip to Main Content

During this 1-hour Intermediate Webinar, you will learn what Process Walks are and why Process Walks are a critical action before implementing improvements to any process.

Webinar Level

  • Intermediate


  • What a Process Walk is
  • Why Process Walks are a MUST
  • How to do a Process Walk
  • How to use Process Walk Templates

Tools & Templates

Webinar Slides

Q&As From the Webinar

Webinar Transcript

Tracy: Lean Six Sigma is about problem-solving. And every organization has problems to solve. Do organizations ever run out of problems to solve? No! They typically don’t and they actually do need people that can help solve those problems, so good people.

Today’s Agenda

So – and there’s a lot of people that I agree with us on that, which is why Lean Six Sigma is so popular and why a lot of people are trying to learn about it.

So one of the things we’re going to be talking about today is something that is near and dear to my heart. And that is process walks. We are going to be talking about what they are, why they are a must. We are going to briefly touch on the role of a process walk facilitator and some of the mistakes, the biggest mistakes that I have seen people make when conducting a process walk.

So that’s really our agenda and we’re going to talk for about 45 minutes and then we’re going to actually share and open up comments and questions that you might have to the group at the end of our session for about 15 minutes.

What is a Process Walk?

So, what is a process walk? So there are lots of different kinds of process walks and people get confused about what a process walk is and who is supposed to be doing it. There are process walks that leaders do. They’re called a leader process walks. And they are done by leaders and only take about an hour sometimes.

And then there are value stream mapping process walks. And this is when you walk a process and you build a value stream map, and typically those are executive leaders that will go on a value stream mapping session. Well actually, frontline people do it as well as executives as well. And I will tell you that Karen Martin is somebody that I highly admire, says it is definitely executives that should be doing a value stream mapping because it’s strategically planning your process improvement efforts.

But the one we’re going to be talking about today is the process walk that people do when they’re on an improvement team, a team that is trying to improve the process, the people that do the process. So that is the one that we are really focused on.

And so first, we want to say that what is a process walk? It really is when a team of people who do a process together actually walk the process together to see it. And it’s also called go to “gemba” which is the Japanese term and that means go to the real place. Go to where the work occurs. And the reason why we do this is because ultimately we want to build profound knowledge of the process and the root causes. Find out the root causes of the problems in the process.

It is not – process walks are not gotcha moments. They are not designed to say, “Ha! I catch you doing it wrong.” That does not work. Well, that’s not the purpose of the process walk, let’s just say that.

The purpose really is to educate on the current state. And so then from there, once people understand what the current state of the process is then we can work on solutions and implement a plan. But typically what happens is, people jump to solution. They don’t even know what the process is and they’re trying to make a change. And that could be very frustrating for the people that do the process who maybe don’t agree. And that’s another reason why change is very difficult sometimes because you’re not engaging the employees very well by doing that.


So here’s your first poll. Have you ever conducted or participated in a process walk? So I’m going to go ahead and launch it and go ahead and answer the question and we’ll see what you guys come up with. Your choices are, “Yes, process walks occur frequently in our organization,” “Yes, we do participate but we don’t very often,” and “No.” So go ahead and respond.

Elisabeth: Tracy, this is – I know it’s near and dear to your heart but one of the things I love about process walks is everyone talks about buy-in, getting buy-in, getting engagement. And process walks remind when parents put spoonful of peas on a spoon and play airplane with their kids and the kids think they are playing a game and suddenly they’re eating peas.

So this process walk ostensibly is we’re supposed to go through and figure out what the process is and how everyone’s job, the ins and outs of everyone’s job. But really, it’s building engagement. Without people knowing it, it’s happening. And I think that’s the power of it. So much gets done on these walks. It’s not just, “Hey, what do you do?”

Tracy: Yes, you’re absolutely right. I’m going to go ahead and close the poll and then we’re going to share results.

Elisabeth: OK. So it looks like you’ve got the majority – well, a third of our folks have not done process walks yet and half of them do them but not often and you got a small group that does it frequently. So – but close to 20%.

Tracy: Yeah. Good. Well, the great news is hopefully for the majority of – well, there are a lot of them. There are a lot of things I could say here. Hopefully, this will benefit really all of you because if you haven’t done them before, I will tell you the three biggest mistakes that we see when people do process walks. And they could be very damaging in terms of going forward with a successful process walk in the future. So we’ll talk through that.

Also, if you don’t do them very often, that means typically that sometimes we don’t really understand the process or we’re not as familiar. So we could be a little vulnerable in terms of organizing.

And then if you do them frequently, I’d love to hear what you guys are struggling with in terms of challenges and even best practices.

So, thank you for sharing that.

Why Process Walks Are Important

OK. So let’s go back. OK. So, let’s talk first of all about why process walks are important. And because again, I do actually get pushback from people when we say, “Let’s do a process walk.” And so here are a couple of reasons why it’s important.

Build profound knowledge of current state. So as I said before, people jump to solution all the time everywhere. We can do a psychological analysis about why that is probably because we’re rewarded to have solutions. But people don’t want to necessarily focus on the current state. They don’t want to explore current state or learn more about it or build profound knowledge. So that really does help people focus on the current state.

The second thing is it confirms and busts assumptions. So I cannot – almost every single process walk that I have helped facilitate, people have bust – they had busted assumptions that they thought were true and aren’t or that they thought it wasn’t true and it was.

OK. So confirming and busting assumptions is a big part of the process walk because a lot of times we can’t see the problem because we have a false assumption or we can’t fix the problem because we have a false assumption. So that is one of the things that a process walk helps do is confirms and busts assumptions.

I think the most valuable thing, actually all of these are valuable, but this is what I hear people talk about the most, is they get to understand the whole process not just pieces of the process.

I just did a process walk yesterday with a client and we had five different sections, units, or departments involved just to – for whatever – they call them sections. But this group had never seen the process. They have never seen the entire process before. They only knew their piece of the process and everything else, they were just guessing really.

So it was really enlightening for them to see the whole process. And that’s what a process walk does.

And finally, and I think this is something people forget, process walks help people see waste in the process. So let’s remember that some of you have processes that you’ve been working in for years or you have employees that have worked there for 20 years. The process has a ton of waste in it but they can’t see it because they’re desensitized to it. They don’t see it because they’ve been working around it for 20 years.

And so, if you do not see waste, you do not feel compelled to eliminate the waste. So I think the big part about process walks that I think people often underestimate is it helps people see the waste that is around them.

When I go into organizations, I see a lot of waste and my eyes are wide open. But I’m used to looking for it. There are some organizations and some employees that just are not used to it. And you have to show them through process walks on how to do that.

8 Wastes

And I’m not going to go over all these 8 wastes. But these are the 8 wastes that we’re looking for typically in a process walk.

We can see some of the wastes and I spend a lot more time in my administrative processes where there’s a lot of waiting and people don’t see the waiting because they’re busy doing other things. And so, when we point out that the thing is waiting and then we identify how long the thing is waiting, and again, we say it’s nobody’s fault that it’s waiting. It’s the design of the process. There’s a queue in the process and it’s designed to wait there.

So those are the things about the 8 wastes that we sometimes look at. We say, “Wow! Do we really need these many steps?” Most people know that there’s extra processing in those steps or extra transportation or motion but they’re just not used to identifying it yet. So process walks are great ways to get people to see what kinds of wastes they have.

So these are some of the benefits of a process walk. You build that profound knowledge. You confirm and bust assumptions. You understand the whole process, not just pieces of a process. And you see waste.

And here’s another reason why process walks are really important.

#1: Some Processes Are Invisible

Most processes in administrative environments are invisible. I mean look at this picture. Do you see a process? I don’t see a process. I just see a bunch of people working in their cubicles. So I don’t see a process at all.

And so, the process is invisible. And when you have a process that is invisible with many people touching it and compliance requirements changed, regulatory changed, new systems are changing things, guess what? The process design becomes something that looks like this. If you can’t see a process, how do you know it’s not designed like this?

So that’s the – people always say, “Well, we’re just going to walk a bunch of cubicles.” That’s exactly why you need to walk it because that means the process is invisible and most likely it’s probably designed like this.

And how many of you work in a process that is designed like this? You think, “Oh my gosh! There’s got to be a better way.” So that’s why it’s really important to do a walk because it becomes very apparent that the process needs improvement.

So, here’s what I say about processes. We don’t want this to happen. And we have to start on tweaking the pipes when this does happen. But often, we don’t allocate time to improve processes and we really do need to do that. And I always talk about processes like junk drawers. OK? How many of you have a junk drawer? Do you have a junk drawer, Elisabeth? Elisabeth, do you have a junk drawer? Elisabeth, where are you? I can’t hear you.

Elisabeth: I was fixing my junk drawer.


Elisabeth: Because it looks just like that.

Tracy: OK. Well, Elisabeth got a junk drawer. I’ve got plenty of junk drawers. And the thing about it is processes are like junk drawers. If you don’t clean them out every so often, they just get filled with a bunch of junk you don’t need. And how many of you feel like you haven’t looked at your processes in a long time? Or that these processes with a lot of junk in them and we don’t really take the time to clean them out. So process walks sort of identifies where these are occurring.

So that’s really why it’s important. So that’s number one. Processes are invisible and that’s why process walks are a must. And even when they’re not invisible, they’re a must. And I’m going to talk about why in just a minute.

#2: Processes Have Many Versions

So another reason why process walks are a must, processes have many versions. OK? There’s what you think it is. This is what I think the process is. There is what it really is. And then there’s what it should be and what it could be.

So often, most people walk around with the green one. Here is what I think the process is. Even managers because if they’re not doing the process, they really don’t know, only the people that do that process in that moment really know what that process is. And so, we really need to move managers as well as other people in the process away from what they think it is to what it really is. And a process walk does that. It is the one tool with mapping that helps people see how the process really is. And so, that’s one reason.

And then we have these other ones, what it should be and what it could be. What it should be, where does that come from? What it should be is that policy and procedure that nobody reads or people ignore or they don’t follow. That’s the what it should be process. I always tell people, “Should we be bringing those on the process walk when we’re looking for improvement?” No! Why? Because if you ask somebody, “Do you do it this way?” What do you think they’re going to say? “Yes, that’s how I do it.”

And so, we’re not really seeing the real process. Remember, it’s not a gotcha process. We’re not here to say, “Are you doing this?” And then having them lie to us. We’re there to see what the process really is and we have to create a safe environment to really be able to share that. So that’s what we really want.

And then what it could be is the future state, because we think it was this green box like OK, we think it’s this process then we found out it’s really more complex than that. And then it’s our goal to improve the process.

So those are really the four things that we see, the four versions of a process.

So that’s number two. That’s the number two reason why process walks are a must because you have to use a process walk to move people from what they think it is to what it really is before we can improve it.

#3: Processes Run Horizontal

OK. Here is process reason number three of why process walks are a must. So this is a little abstract but I think you’re going to get it. If you’re a process person, you’re going to get this and you probably already get it. But the issue is we manage people vertically, hierarchically, by function. And so you have department #1 with their manager. You have department #2 with their manager. And when you have vertical management of people and function, what happens?

Well, it creates silos. What are symptoms of silos? Well, communication issues, barriers, territory issues, people start to become a little bit territorial and those kinds of things. So, all of this stuff is related to vertical management of people.

So we manage people vertically but guess what? Processes run horizontally. And who manages the in between? So there’s obviously a step between department #1 and department #2. Well, whose is that? How many conversations have you have with people about who owns what and whose role is that and whose is this? Because we’re managing people vertically but processes are running through all of them, so that means we have to coordinate all the handouts.

And so, that is one reason why process walks really help people see where the issues are. And again, I’ve worked with people in organizations that have worked in the same process for 20 years and they’ve never seen the whole process. They’ve never walked the whole process.

So that is the number three reason why process walks are a must. So let’s talk a little bit about the role of the facilitator in the process walk because I think this is actually one of the things that we run into as problematic.

Primary Facilitator: Key Focus

So one of the things we talk about with the facilitator is we want to create a safe environment. We want to keep the team on track and we want to energize the team. And so, these are the primary roles of a facilitator. I actually think it’s a myth that the facilitator of a process walk needs to know the process.

As a matter of fact, in order to maintain no bias, I think it’s better that the facilitator not know the process because ultimately it doesn’t matter what the facilitator knows. It’s the people. It’s what the people see and what the people learn and what they’re going to do about those learnings that are the most important.

And so, in order for that to be the most optimal, the facilitator really does need to focus on creating a safe environment for people to say, “This step is stupid.” Or, “This doesn’t add any value.” Or, “I don’t know why I do this step.” And so, how do you create that safe environment as a facilitator so people can be inquisitive and educational about the process and learn about where the gaps are. We got to keep the team on track. So that can be really hard too.

If you’ve got a number of interviews that you’re doing, how do you make adjustments to the agenda as appropriate? Sometimes you only allocate 30 minutes to do a process walk interview and it takes 45 and then how do you adjust that.

And finally, process walks are exhausting. And what I mean by that is often, people are walking the process and using their brain in an unfamiliar way. And that is – that can be an issue. So they get tired. They get tired. They’re just not coming in doing the same thing they’ve always done for 10 years. They’re using their brains in the different way than they have in the past, and that is pretty tiring. Muscles they haven’t used in a long time.

So, that’s some of your primary goals as a facilitator. And what I have seen – what I’ve seen is facilitators basically trying to fix the process themselves and not involving people where they need to. And worst case, trying to be the expert.

What the Facilitator Is Not

And then also, presenting to the stakeholders when really the people that walk the process and participating in the process should be participating in that.

So, it’s not about you. If you’re the facilitator of a process walk, it’s not about you. It’s about the people that you’re helping see what they need to see about the process and getting the glory for participating in that. I think the biggest success with the process walk is if someone – if a team really feels like they did it themselves. The facilitator just provided a framework and a format and a safe environment but the team then did it themselves. And that is a great indicator of success in my opinion.

OK. So let’s talk a little bit about the biggest mistakes we see when it comes to process walks.

Elisabeth: Tracy, I can tell you what the biggest mistake is.

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: Not doing a process walk.

Big Mistake #1

Tracy: You are absolutely right, Elisabeth. Not doing a process walk is the number one thing. They sit in a meeting room like this or they sit in a conference room and they talk about it. They don’t go there. And people say, “Well, why don’t I need to go there? I don’t really need to go there. Can we just sit in the conference room? I mean there’s no process to see.” Well, that’s exactly why you need to go.

Administrative or service processes, you can’t see them. And people go, “Well, are we just going to stand around in a bunch of cubicles?” Yes, you will but there are sometimes things that you will not see because you did not walk the process.

And just a couple of examples. So let’s remember, when you do a process walk, people aren’t used to seeing waste so they’re not going to come into a conference room and tell you about all the wastes they have. Some people will. But most people don’t see the waste. If you got a guy who has been working in the process for 10 years and he is telling you the process works fine but you go to his desk and he has piles of work in process and he’s like, “Oh, well, it works fine.” Really?

So that’s why you got to go to the process because you’re hearing second-hand from a person and they’re going to miss stuff. They’re going to miss of the stuff about the waste. And so, that’s where we’re seeing where they work helps a lot. And so, that’s really an important reason why you want to go.

I had actually one example. We went to a person’s process, to their area. And I was told by someone before the process walk that they thought she was the bottleneck. And so, she actually was unaware. She was – basically, people were basically saying to her, “Why can’t you go faster? Why can’t you go faster?” And she was basically saying, “Look, I’m going as fast as I can. I can’t go any faster.”

Basically, one of her big jobs was to receive medical documents, make sure that they’ve been received and then forward them on to the proper departments. So she would send medical documents to doctors to complete and then she would receive them.

So what ended up happening is she said, “Look, I just go as fast as I can.” And she had been doing this for a number of years, let’s say. I don’t remember exactly how many years but it was a long time.

And so while we’re standing there talking to her about her process, she is actually trying to submit a medical request to a doctor and then the fax ring. And it cut off the fax she was trying to send because what we discovered at that moment is the fax machine did not receive and send faxes simultaneously.

So, this was an easy fix in my opinion. Well, she has got a constraint because she only got one piece of equipment here. And so, it’s an old example because really, who uses faxes anymore? But it’s very telling when you’re in the process and you’ve been doing it this way for a long time, it’s hard to see sometimes the opportunities and the wastes.

So do the process walk. Very important.

Big Mistake #2: Poor Planning

The second biggest mistake is and this is where I see a lot of this. This is where I get really nervous for people. Poor planning.

So process walks are supposed to be done in the element of respect as much as possible. And what I find is when we don’t plan very well, it comes across as very disrespectful. We don’t invite the right people to the right things. We leave people off. We forget actual whole steps that we should have invited somebody from this department. We don’t inform other groups that are going to be affected by the walk.

For example, if you have a group of people standing around a cubicle, you should probably let the people know around you that it’s going to be taking place.

And then also, here is the worst one. We don’t tell the interviewee prior to the interview. We just show up and we ask them, “Can we ask you about your process?” That is so disrespectful. And so, we really do not want to put people in that position because that poor soul had no time for preparation and now it does feel like a gotcha moment. So, we really do not want to be putting people in that position.

And again, if you don’t involve the right people at the right time, what ends up happening is it feels like you’re doing process improvement to people instead of with them. So, it’s really important to make sure that we put the detail and the effort required into the planning of the process walk.

And here’s the other thing. If you don’t – here’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen as well is the facilitator decides they’re going to walk the process and they’re going to interview the people and they’re going to map the process and then they’re going to bring everybody in.

Well, guess what? The only person that had any discoveries about the process was the facilitator. They didn’t get a chance to even see the ahas. And guess what? How likely are they going to want to make a change? Because they didn’t see what the facilitator changed. So when you do that, you’re actually putting yourself in a very difficult position as a facilitator because you were the only one that did the research and now you got to convince everybody of what you saw. So that doesn’t necessarily work very well.

Build a Shared Understanding

So another planning mistake that I often see is when people say, “Well, wouldn’t it be a lot easier just to break us up and we split the team up and we walk the process? And that’s more efficient, isn’t it?” Yeah, sure that’s more efficient but it’s not as effective. It’s actually terribly ineffective.

And what I liken it to is when you – hearing about a process is no substitute for seeing the process. It’s kind of like when you go see a movie. Do you have the same impact as going to see the movie as when your friend tells you about the movie? I mean is your friend’s description of the movie just as good as seeing the movie yourself? No! So why would we expect that telling process workers about the process versus having them see it for themselves is going to be effective? Because that’s what we’re essentially asking people.

And when you want to split up and see different parts of the process to be effective, I kind of liken that to saying, “OK, we’re going to go see a movie but you’re going to see one part of the movie and I’m going to see the other parts of the movie and then we’re going to see what we think.” That sounds absurd, doesn’t it?

So we definitely don’t want to split people up. The idea behind the process walk is that we want to build a shared understanding of the process. People need to see the process together. It creates a shared understanding of the current state, the opportunities, and the discoveries. And that’s a really important thing that we rob people of if we don’t allow them to see the process and have the discoveries for themselves. And it requires a lot more planning but I will say that I can’t tell you how much more effective it is to do it in this way.

So that’s mistake number two is poor planning. Not involving the right people, missing people, or worst yet, interviewing people but then not having them participate in the rest of the walk. I mean they’re part of the process obviously. So why are we not doing things? So make sure you’re creating a shared understanding and a shared experience for the process walk.

Big Mistake #3

OK. Last thing. The last mistake that we see is not enforcing the ground rules. So again, this is the job of the facilitator and they have a very important job because we don’t want – I have unfortunately heard about process walks that had gone wrong because the facilitator did not enforce the ground rules of a process walk. So you have to find the right facilitator because they have to be strong enough to be able to kick people out if they have to because they’re not following the ground rules.

So it is our primary job to make sure people feel safe in this environment and we don’t want public shaming of interviewees. We don’t want people to feel like they got a gotcha moment. We don’t want it to feel like an interrogation.

Process Walk Ground Rules

So here are some of the ground rules. And I’m not going to read all of these to you but all of these are extremely important. I think one of my favorites, a few of my favorites are first of all, being a student of the process, if you’re walking the process, your job at the moment is not to fix it. Your job is not to make suggestions. That tells me that you’re not listening to the way the process is. You got to be a student of the current state of the process.

And you also have to be empathetic. If the process is designed poorly, the biggest victims of the process are the people that are working in it. And sometimes they are not empowered to make the changes. So, be empathetic. Don’t judge because they’re just doing often what they’re told and sometimes are not – they don’t have the power or they’re not empowered to make the change which is unfortunate.

I think the other thing is rank has no privilege. I always say be careful about who invite. If you invite the top leader of an organization, although that sounds like a great idea to show support, let’s face it. People are uncomfortable with the top leader there. They’re not going to want to share all of the problems that they run into with the top leader there.

So I often don’t like to invite people at the highest level of rank for the entire walk. I like to have them show up at the beginning and show up at the end. And then talk about – and hear about some of the discoveries, those kinds of things. So involve those people at the right time.

I think the other thing people forget is do not correct the interviewee during the walk. Why do you think that is? Why do you think it’s important not to correct the interviewee? Mostly because it’s embarrassing number one. And they’re not going to – let them show you their process. If you correct them, they’re not going to want to show you the rest.

I’m not saying not to correct the interviewee. At some point, you see something that it’s not right. You can go to them later. Just don’t do it then. Don’t do it at that moment because you’re going to put people off and it’s not going to be an enjoyable experience and they’re not going to share with you what their process is.


So, another poll. Currently, how hard does this seem to uphold these ground rules in your organization for a process walk? I’m going to go ahead and launch that poll. And go ahead and vote.

Elisabeth: So Tracy, I don’t know if you run into this but it’s not as bad as finger pointing but sometimes when I’m on a walk, I find some of the folks get into weeds on trying to find a solution. If somebody is explaining one of the things that goes wrong at their particular point in the process, a lot of people have that immediate training, if there’s a problem, solve it. So they want to solve it. And if you get into the weeds and it can stall the process walk. And I try to temper it so that we hear some of the ideas and people can jot those down but to not let that become the goal of why we’re at that particular point. Is that familiar?

Tracy: Yes, absolutely. I agree. It’s very familiar. All right. So we’ve got a couple of other ones. We’re still holding out. We still got 65% of the vote. So I’m going to wait a little bit longer. But again, this is why we often have to start with the cultural impact of making it safe.

Again, we did a webinar a little while ago where we asked people, how safe – do you have a safe environment or a blame-free environment? And people say, “Well, there are lots of opportunities still. And so, it could be very difficult to do a process walk if people are not feeling safe in general.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: I have found that it works really well in a bubble. And I think people really get a lot out of how the possibility of working together in a blame-free environment in the process walk but it could be a little harder for people that want to let go.

Elisabeth: Yeah, yeah. No, I hear you. You got 75%, magic 75, Tracy.

Tracy: Alright. Let’s close it. And share.

Elisabeth: OK. So it looks like the majority finds it challenging but not impossible. Well, that’s almost half which is really encouraging. And then you kind of got an equal number of people saying at first, it’s hard until they get the hang of it and it should be OK to do. Very difficult, 13% and 8% said it’s easy to do but hard decision. So it’s kind of that small group that it’s just a piece of cake. So it’s a challenge as you say.

Tracy: Yes. And I do feel sorry for the people that say it’s going to be very difficult to uphold because that sort of oozes into a lot of other elements of Lean Six Sigma with wanting to make problems visible and talking about problems and those kinds of things. So I do feel sorry for those of you. And that tells me that there’s a group that needs to probably do some cultural work. Leaders need to be doing some cultural work there to make it a little more possible.

Challenging but not impossible, I agree. I think if this will a little bit, I think once they – often what I see is if you start to model the right behavior and you call people out on blame and those kinds of things – let me step back. I didn’t mean call people out. I mean just announcing that we are doing it and encouraging people to focus on the process and not people as an example.

I think people quickly start to recognize where they’re also participating in that. Labeling some behavior sometimes helps. And I’ve seen some very quick changes in culture when leaders recognize that they’re actually promoting something, a bad behavior, and they stop doing it. So sometimes that can be very helpful.

So thank you for sharing. And let’s go back to the ground rules.

So again, I would just say that it’s really important, just kind of pretty much what we’re just talking about, process walks need a safe environment like any process improvement. And how do we create a blame-free environment?

Safe Environment

And so, here’s the other thing is sometimes I have to remind leaders, if they’re going to come to like a report out because a lot of times process walks go hand in hand with the rapid improvement of that and then the stakeholders will come to the stakeholder presentation, if you will, at the end of the rapid improvement event. And I have to remind leaders just before we do the presentation that nobody should get in trouble for participating in the process walk because I think sometimes they forget. If we uncover something, well, let’s just a little ugly, and it has happened.

I was – we did a process walk in healthcare and we discovered that someone that was a non-clinical person was making clinical decisions accidentally. She actually didn’t know she was making a clinical decision and we saw it happened in the process walk. And I didn’t know this because again, I’m not a healthcare expert but everybody like opened their eyes really big like those kids watching the movie and they looked at me. I didn’t know what was happening. I go, “What?”

And of course, we didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable because we want to see the rest of her process and I just wrote – I just kind of mimicked, “Write it down” with my hand. And then they told us. She was making a clinical decision and she is not a clinical person.

So we had her correcting the problem and she basically said she had no idea. She apologized. And we asked her, did her doctor give her that direction? She said, “No. I was just trying to help because he is so busy.” And so, it was totally naïve. It was just a naïve mistake. And so, we were able to address it and we were able to adjust the process and those kinds of things.

But that’s why we have to make sure that we should be thanking people for participating in the process walk and for being vulnerable and for being – for exposing their piece of the process and telling us what they don’t like and what they think that could be improved.

And often, I have heard not in necessarily the ones that I’ve been involved in but I’ve heard people get in trouble where they did a process walk and somebody came in and yelled at them later. And so, we have to think about how are we actually – what does that – what’s that going to do in the long term? People aren’t going to want to participate. So we have to be really careful about how people behave during and after the process walks, and that is really – even having a conversation with leaders.

So, I felt like these webinars sometimes can be hard because I’m very much used to an engaged environment where I’m asking questions and people are responding and I just feel like sitting here talking to my computer.

Elisabeth: I’m listening, Tracy. I’m listening.

Today We Covered

Tracy: Right. And so, I hope you enjoyed this webinar. I hope you got something out of it. Here’s what we covered basically. And ultimately, I really feel deeply about this particular event or tool if you will because I have seen how successful these are and how it can really bring a team together. I think the hard part is what people miss is actually working together on it as a team and the collaboration and watching this movie together if you will really does bring people together.

And I think that’s the softer side benefit that people miss. And when you cut people out of that opportunity, it’s hard for them to want to change. And so then people always wonder, “Why don’t people want to change?” They don’t see the opportunity. All the people that do the walk will see the opportunities together and then you don’t have to try to convince them. And so, it’s easier just to let them see it.

Process walks should be a positive eye-opening learning experience that employees want to repeat. And if you do a process walk and it doesn’t have those impacts then we need to improve the process of walking the process.


So, that’s all I have to say. I’m not sure if anybody has any questions. But this is going to be starting our question and answer period. And while we’re doing – so if you have a question, just type it in the question window and we are going to go ahead and answer questions for the next 14-ish minutes. And if we can’t answer your question, we will type it up and then it will be available on our website.

Getting Started

And I’ll also just say that if you’re looking to get started in process improvement, we have a lot of online training that I think rocks. And guess what? The Yellow Belt Training is free. I think it’s great material and it’s free. I mean you can use this to debrief somebody on a fishbone before you do a fishbone diagram.

We also have the Green Belt and the Black Belt and we also have just Lean for those Lean enthusiast. And then we also have while we’re waiting for you guys to type in some questions, we also have our next webinar that’s coming up and our next podcast. And I’m going to let Elisabeth speak to those.

Upcoming Webinar

Elisabeth: Thank you, Tracy. So the next webinar is going to be How to Facilitate a Process Improvement Team to Success. Then what Tracy and I have experienced over time is that we can teach people how to build histograms, do a process walk, but when people are thrown into running projects, running teams, they didn’t get any facilitation training.

So this webinar, I’m going to cover some of the simple things, really simple powerful techniques that help team leads and other people succeed on the people side. I feel like a great quote is, “It’s the soft stuff that’s the hard stuff.” We can teach you these hard tools but it’s these soft skills dealing with people and most of Tracy’s discussion around process walks is that’s the downside. It’s watching out for working and making sure people feel OK. So we’re going to cover a lot more of that in depth.

Just-In-Time Podcast

And then the next thing I want to point out to you is our latest Just-In-Time Podcast. This podcast is great. It has got more tips on process walks. It has got a cool app for workflow. It also has got a really fascinating interview with Bill Eureka, and I love his name. But he is a consultant who worked at Herman Miller, world-famous furniture manufacturer that did lots of Lean Six Sigma techniques, very famous, very successful.

And Eli Goldratt, one of the great fathers of quality wrote a book called The Goal, which was kind of a ground breaker. He met him and he worked with people from the Goldratt Institute. So he has great pertinent stories. It’s a great interview which brings us to – let’s see. Some questions you guys have put in.


So back to our Q&A. Tracy, someone wants to know how do you handle unwillingness of subject matter experts when you want them to share information about a process?

Tracy: So, that’s a great question. And I have to say that many times when people have said, “This is going to be challenging because I already can tell you that these two people are not going to want to share their information.” Surprisingly, they have. And the reason why is because I believe that most people don’t want to share because of fear.

So again, if you have people that are fearful or high blame organization, what they really think you’re after is to try to get them into a gotcha or where they’re doing something wrong. So guess what? They’re territorial. They do not want to share. So if you want people to share, you got to address that.

If you do not address that this is not about them, it is not about what they’re doing wrong, it is really – you have to sort of be empathetic and say, “I realized and a lot of people realized that this process is not designed very well and you’re probably one of the biggest victims of this process.” If you don’t say those exact words, they’re not going to – and again, it’s got to be from a trusting source, they’re not going to want to share.

So in the short term, that is probably the quickest way to address it. In a long term, it is – they can feel safe.

Elisabeth: Great.

Tracy: And I have found that every time, it has worked.

Elisabeth: Here is another one for you. If you don’t have an engineering background, can you still be successful as a Six Sigma consultant?

Tracy: Well, gosh! You know, it’s funny you asked that because guess what my background is. It’s English. I majored in English. And as a matter of fact, I was at GE Appliances and they asked me if I wanted to be a Black Belt and I told them I had no formal experience as an engineer. And they said it doesn’t matter. Why? Because this is about process and it’s about bringing people together and analyzing processes. So I have to say, absolutely not. And I am actually an example of that.

Elisabeth: And a fine example you are, Tracy. I’ve got another question for you. This is from Liz. She says, “If you are migrating from one system to another, would you recommend doing a process walk of both the as is and the future state?”

Tracy: Well, it’s hard to do a process walk with something that doesn’t exist. But I get what you’re saying. Yes. As a matter of fact, absolutely. This is the perfect time to do it because what I find is when people want to automate or move into different systems, they’re automating a bad process. So do it now. Do it before it’s too late because you do not want to automate a process that has 17 unnecessary steps because that’s going to be even harder to change.

So yes, I would wholeheartedly agree that I would say that could be a great opportunity for when you want to do a process walk. And yes, doing at future state can really help to make sure that you’ve worked out all the bugs. Maybe it’s not a process walk per se but it’s a dry run.

Elisabeth: That’s good. Here’s a question from Ramon. What is the best frequency to do process walks in a plant with 4 shifts?

Tracy: That is a great question. And there is no right answer. A lot of it is dependent on many things. How many people are involved? What kinds of errors are occurring? Are your customers happy? What kinds of process improvements are they doing?

Elisabeth: OK. Those are great. We’ve got one from Vishaun. He says, “Are process …?” Say it again?

Tracy: Leader will walk a process daily if not hourly. But it’s a short quick one. So it really does depend on what you’re trying to accomplish, how many people are involved, and who is doing it.

Elisabeth: Great.

Tracy: Isn’t that the typical consultant answer?

Elisabeth: Yes, it depends. Thank you. We used to hand out buttons and said it depends just to put a final point on that.

OK. So I got another one for you from Vishaun. Are process walks and FMEAs more or less similar?

Tracy: No. I would say they’re not. And here’s why. FMEAs are really around identifying risk and being proactive about reducing that risk. Process walks aren’t necessarily about risks. They’re about problems. You’re trying to reduce problems and built current state in the process. So I think if you – we have a sheet. It’s a process walk interview sheet. It’s online at I don’t think you would ask a lot of those questions if you are just doing and FMEA.

So, great question. I think that you could walk a process to have a better understanding of risks but I feel like it’s a very small piece of the pie. That it has a different purpose.

Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely. We got another one for you. Another sort of asking about similarities. This is from Chanel. What’s the difference between a process walk and a Kaizen session, also known as a rapid improvement event?

Tracy: Wonderful, wonderful question. I say that there is a lot of confusion out there between process walks, value stream mapping sessions, and kaizen events. And as a matter of fact, that’s why I sort of prefer to tease them out separately because I feel like process walks don’t just occur. Some process walks can occur outside of a rapid improvement event or kaizen events, to what she calls it. Sometimes it’s part of the kaizen event. You walk the process. You map the process. You fix the process. That could be a strategy for doing a kaizen event.

But process walks, again, they could be done by a leader once a week, once a day for an hour. And then also, process walks can be done by executives to create a value stream mapping session.

So any time I feel like – I think the most impactful is when you’re doing an improvement to a process and there are multiple sections, units, or departments involved and they’ve never seen the process together before. But I hope it helps. If someone is asking me to do a kaizen event and they’ve never walked the process, I’m going to tell them they need to do a process walk first and then we may attach the kaizen event to it.

But I sometimes find that you can’t always do that because you may not have all the right people you need for the kaizen event. We’re going into a process walk. We don’t know what we’re going to find. And so, how do you know you have the right people to actually fix the process? So that’s the concern I have when just assuming that you’re going to do a process walk, map it, and then fix it because you may not have all the right people you need and now, they’re going to feel blindsided. And so, that’s the concern. I hope that helps.

Elisabeth: No, that’s great, Tracy. Here’s one from Kimberly. It’s also a good one. How many would be too many to participate in a process walk?

Tracy: That’s a great question. I did a process walk with 20 people before and I’ll never do it again.

Elisabeth: So 20 is too many.

Tracy: Twenty is definitely too many. And when I start seeing that people want to come and that we’re reaching 15, I start to pick people off. I say, “Who are they? Why do they want to come?” For example, some people say, “Well, we need to talk to two people that do this process.” I would start to question why or a supervisor who doesn’t do the process and we’re going into four departments and all supervisors want to come, I kick them off. I say, “You know what? That’s great. But we have too many people.”

So I’d say 6 is wonderful but if you get up to 10 or 12, it’s still acceptable. And then 15, I start picking people off. I start really thinking about who were asking to come. And so again, that helps with your scope. You need to pick a process that’s more manageable to actually do a process walk because if it’s an entire process that involves 300 people, it’s going to be too big.

Elisabeth: Yeah. You don’t want to be walking around with more than a baseball team really.

Tracy: Exactly.

Elisabeth: OK. This is a question from Joseph. And it is how do you do a process walk if everyone is remote from each other?

Tracy: That is a great question, and we get this a lot. Well, guess what? Today’s technology makes that so easy, right? FaceTime, Skype, I mean there are so many – I mean it’s so easy now to just get these people live.

I went to a seminar last week. And we were having a conversation with a gentleman who works in Sudan and somebody asked him a question he couldn’t answer. He actually called the person on Zoom in Sudan. So, there’s no excuse.

Tracy: Call him. Plan it. Schedule it. You have to do some planning. I always say, be ready to share what you do in this process. And I’ll give him a list of the questions just so that it could be very specific. But there are so many – FaceTime, it’s so easy now.

Elisabeth: So here’s a question. There’s one – there are two that are kind of related. Justine asks, “Can you define what a process is?” And Richard asks, “Could you fully explain what a process walk is and give and an example?”

Tracy: OK. Let’s see. What was the first one?

Elisabeth: So Justine is asking, “Can you define what a process is?” These are kind of fundamental questions and I thought it might be just nice to address them both.

Tracy: Yeah.

Elisabeth: And the other one is, “Could explain what a process walk is? Give an example.”

Tracy: OK. So what is a process? Because I’m in process improvement, I’m actually struggling with that question a little bit. Everything is a process, from tying yours shoes to baking a cake to going through airport security, anything that has a start and an end. You start – there’s a trigger for something and you actually have to process it or enter it into something like a system. I mean there are thousands of processes.

But I can also appreciate the question because a lot of times when people send me their charter and they say, “I want to reduce retention. I want to reduce people leaving in our company.” I go, “There’s no process. That’s not a process. That’s a measure. Pick a process. Pick a process and then pick a problem in it. But when you say retention, that’s just a measure and there’s no process tied to that.”

So I can appreciate the question. I hope that helped.

Elisabeth: So Tracy, I’m going to let the group that’s remaining. Thank you, guys, for hanging in. We’re going to post answers to all of your questions online. So everything you’ve sent in, we’ll get answers to you. We’ll post those by tomorrow. And this webinar as we’ve mentioned is going to be available to you online as well for you to download.

And I just want to – yes, go Tracy.

Tracy: And I’ll just save the last question. I know we don’t have any more time. But there’s – I’m going to send out – we have an actual video of a process walk. That’s probably the best to answer that last question. It’s the special agent. It’s an old video but it gives you an idea of what a process walk is and what happened. And so we can – we’ll make that available to that question as well.

Elisabeth: That’s nice. And as Tracy mentioned, we’ve got a lot of templates online that you can download that have to do with process walk guidance, interview sheet, things like that.

Also, please give us feedback. We’ve gotten ideas for webinars from you. So when you respond to the survey after this webinar, please let us know what you’re interested in as well as giving us some feedback.

So thanks everybody. Thanks for joining us. That’s it for today’s webinar. Thanks, Tracy.

View our upcoming webinars and join live so you can ask questions and let us know what you’d like to us to cover next. We’re busy building new webinars all the time. And we’re happy to know you’re busy too – building your problem-solving muscles – keep it up!

Get Full Lean Six Sigma Training & Certification

You can also register for our full Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt and Lean Training & Certification courses to give you a solid foundation for applying Lean Six Sigma.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Close search
×Close search