5 Reasons to Move to Virtual Gemba Walks

Digital TransformationLean Manufacturing February 12, 2021
Discover the benefits of moving to virtual gemba walks, especially during the pandemic.
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Factories are usually noisy places. Holding a conversation while wearing ear defenders or using ear plugs means getting up close, and that runs counter to social distancing protocols. Plus, lip-reading isn’t an option when everyone’s wearing a mask. Gemba walks involve getting out on the floor and talking to the people who work there, but how do you do that during a pandemic?

There is a way.

The solution is to perform a virtual gemba walk. What’s that, you ask? Allow us to explain.

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The Problem With Gemba Walks During a Pandemic

Gemba walks require the leaders at an operation to get out on the factory floor and talk to the people working there. Unlike ‘management by walking around’, it’s a focused look at a specific part of the production process with the aim of uncovering and subsequently implementing improvements.

Social distancing protocols and mask-wearing make it almost impossible to perform gemba walks in the conventional sense. Plus, with many specialists and managers working remotely, it’s not possible to bring the required experts together on site.

These factors also add to the challenges of implementation and follow-up. In addition, the safeguards many businesses have implemented to reduce the risk of disease transmission have negatively impacted communication. With fewer ad hoc interactions between shifts and different teams it’s harder to prepare for, conduct, and follow up on a gemba walk.

Perform Your Gemba Walks Virtually

A few years ago, a pandemic would have put an end to gemba walks. Today though, technology in the form of connected worker tools like Poka provides a solution.

Poka is a digital tool for capturing, storing and sharing information. It makes it easy for workers to ask questions and offer solutions. It facilitates communication throughout a factory. And with an emphasis on pictures and video, it enables more “show” and less “tell.”

When it comes to performing a digital gemba walk with Poka, the governing principles are no different to those of a traditional gemba process. Identify the target area or areas and tell those who will be involved what’s planned and why. Gather and review information about the problems and challenges being faced. Identify improvements and assign responsibility for making them happen. Follow up to see that measurable benefits have been achieved and share lessons learned.

5 Key Benefits of Switching to Virtual Gemba Walks

1. Capture Problems in Real-Time

In factories that don’t use Poka, many problems go unreported. Factory floor workers just learn to live with them which leaves bottlenecks in place and cost and quality issues unaddressed. When a problem is especially acute or on a worker’s mind for some reason it may get brought up at a shift or team meeting, although the pandemic has put an end to many of those. And suggestion boxes, that staple of improvement efforts, often go unused because from the perspective of factory workers, they seldom yield any result.

With Poka, factory floor workers can shine a light on both big and small issues by using mobile devices to tag equipment and share photos and videos of problems when they happen on the factory floor. As a bonus, Poka’s ease-of-use means workers are more likely to be proactive and share their observations before a small issue becomes a big problem.

2. Solve Problems Faster, Remotely

A particular challenge during the pandemic is that many process engineers and other experts are working remotely. Being unable to show them the problem makes it difficult to explain what’s going wrong, and harder for them to offer solutions or explain the actions needed.

Poka’s Factory Feed provides a solution. With this tool, factory floor workers can post a problem with photos and videos. Then, they can send a notification to remote experts to engage in problem solving and sharing a solution directly in the app.

3. Tap Into Collective Knowledge

Digital communication makes it easy to empower workers to contribute and collaborate with each other across shifts, plants, and even sites. This improves engagement and unlocks tribal knowledge.

With real-time dialogue and collaboration, workers no longer need to wait to communicate information at face-to-face meetings. Poka’s digital communication capabilities provide visibility and accountability for these conversations since team members and managers can share instant feedback, validation and recognition. 

4. Use a Digital Logbook for Root-Cause Analysis

CI leaders can combine machine data with frontline worker insights captured in a digital logbook providing more context when doing a root-cause analysis. It also provides real-time visibility into the progress on issues and solutions.

Want to know if a problem only occurs on a particular line or at a specific time of day? The Factory Feed will have the answer. Digital conversations can be followed to monitor whether corrective and preventive actions are found and implemented or if the problems remain unresolved.

5. Automatically Document Solutions in a Centralized Knowledge Base

Once a problem is solved, the learning can easily be turned into a troubleshooting solution or work instruction - subject to an approval process. All workers are notified when any changes are made. Solutions and any other relevant documents are easily accessible by scanning the QR code on the equipment or workstation. 

Raise the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Your Gemba Walks

Done right, gemba walks are a powerful tool for harnessing the knowledge and boosting the motivation of those working on the factory floor, and thereby improving factory operations. However, a pandemic and all the resulting restrictions make it impossible to perform this activity in the traditional manner.

Poka offers an alternative: the virtual gemba walk which is made possible by digitally connecting factory workers. The big benefit is that gemba walks can continue in this era of social distancing. Rather than coordinating schedules and allocating a block of time for the exercise, gemba activities can be digitally integrated into every day. By making better use of time, there’s more time for improvement work – now that’s a real virtuous circle!

The 5 key benefits of switching to a virtual gamba walk.
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