Walk The Wastes

If you have spent any time around Lean Manufacturing, you have likely learned about the 7 Wastes, and quite possibly have heard about Gemba walks too. These are two of the most effective concepts available to leaders in the realm of continuous improvement, and in this post, I will share how to apply these concepts in tandem to jumpstart improvements in your business.

First, some definitions:

The 7 Wastes are just that, 7 categories of non-value-added activities that can be found in ANY business. The seven categories of waste are Overproduction, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Correcting Defects, Overprocessing, and Waiting. Future posts will dig deeper into defining these categories, but for the purposes of this post we need to accept that every business – even world class operations – contains many wasteful activities.

Gemba walks are a type of management walk on the shop floor aimed at learning and understanding what is really happening in the value stream. Gemba means “the real place” in Japanese, and these walks are essentially a refined version of “management by walking around.” Each Gemba walk should revolve around a particular theme, should be focused on process not people, and should prioritize findings over fixes. These walks enable leaders to discover and understand the daily struggles that employees face in their work and uncover information that could never be found in the boardroom or reading financial reports in the office.

As with the 7 Wastes, future posts on Gemba walks will delve deeper into the process, but the focus of this post is on the effectiveness of combining these two concepts. The 7 Wastes can become part of a common language within organizations interested in driving improvement, but sometimes getting started is tricky. There are many courses – free and paid – that offer to teach individuals about the 7 Wastes, and many do an excellent job of introducing the concept, but there is no replacement for practicing identifying real wastes in the workplace as a means of solidifying the learning. Incorporating each of the wastes into Gemba walk themes can be an excellent way to initiate both concepts in your business.

I have implemented this suggestion recently with two separate clients. Following some introductory training on the wastes, weekly Gemba walks were scheduled, with each week’s theme focused on identifying examples of a single waste in the workplace. Week one focuses on Overproduction, week two focuses on Transportation, and so forth. These clients are finding that the 7 Wastes serve as a perfect theme for practicing and refining Gemba walks, and that the Gemba walk approach is enhancing and leveraging the introductory training on the 7 Wastes.

Curious about where to start looking? Ask employees about the struggles they face in performing their daily work, and you will be well on your way to uncovering many examples of waste. Soon, the team will start to connect how the wastes impact one another and we can begin to think about tools and processes to reduce or eliminate waste.

As always, I love to read and respond comments or questions about this topic. In my practice, I regularly teach 7 Wastes and coach leaders on establishing and conducting effective Gemba walks, and welcome a discussion about the application of these concepts in your business.

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