Digital Gemba Walk: walking a virtual process

The Gemba walk should be the daily activity of managers. This is an activity that everyone should do regularly. However, walking a virtual process is much more complicated than a physical process. To do this: identify the entire process, select the portion you wish to observe, contact the expert, sit back and observe.

Identify the process to visit

A virtual process is more complicated to follow than a physical process. Indeed, you will not see any physical object moving. The moved and modified information generates the value. The first step is to identify the main process, the value chain. Ideally, you will map out the process, with the different steps before you visit.

From the full view of the process, choose the portion that is most relevant to you. Depending on your need, you may want to observe the entire process to understand the flow, and the time of passage. You may want to stop at a particular step. I suggest you start by observing one person. You can sit next to him and it will be easier.

However, much of the value can be generated by software calculations or information transfer… As you will not be able to walk on the computer streams, you will have to be cunning…

  1. Identify the software used at each step of the process
  2. Characterize data exchanges
  3. Find key resources: software programmer, network technician,…
Cartoon: in an office, the IT employee says that he has made changes that only he can understand, that he has not tested and that he is going on vacation for 3 weeks in a remote location. The boss answers that his screen just froze.
Scott Adams 2007, translation Eponine Pauchard

Visit the process and identify opportunities

You then have to spend time with these experts so that they “walk” the different steps with you. They are often able to provide diagrams or schematics of how the software works, the calculation rules or the network used to transact the information. The efficiency of the information system, the robustness of the servers and the architecture are also a guarantee of excellence. A slow system will slow down the people using it or ultimately degrade the overall performance of the process.

The information system is part of the process and must be audited in the same way as the rest of the operations.

All “manual” steps are observed in the same way as in the factory. You sit next to the person doing this step, and watch her do it. Instead of handling a hoist, she talks to the customer, or enters information into a system, handles a file. The techniques are the same as for a physical process. You wonder about the added value of each operation, of the mouse clicks, of the data entered, of the navigation in the screens.

Example of a Gemba on a digital process

Here is an example that can be applied to the observation of a call center agent, an employee who processes administrative tasks or even a developer.

Start by looking at the flow of products/customers/tasks she handles. Is the diversity covered what you expected, are these unique cases, or are they things that are repeated? How are the tasks assigned? What software is used to process the information? Where does the information come from, how often does it arrive, is it processed? How does the information flow between the different software or screens within the software?

Then observe the employee: what is her state of mind, does she have rest periods between different requests or clients? How does she adapt to each situation, how does she use the system? Does she use the mouse, keyboard keys, shortcuts? How does she process the information? Does she use paper, pencil, or other tools outside the system? How much mental workload does she have to deal with, how much information does she have to retain in order to work effectively? How does she interact with her colleagues?

Finally, you can, as in the factory, listen to the soundscape and document it.