How do you understand processes to suss out areas for improvement? Yan Ling from SGH Process Transformation & Improvement (PTI) shares how the Gemba Walk is easy-to-use and effective.

A few months ago, I was asked to explore opportunities to improve processes in a few laboratories at SGH. I was stumped as I had never worked with laboratories before. 

Then my colleagues suggested that I do a Gemba Walk. 

As a Gemba Walk newbie, I had my doubts. How should I prepare for this ‘walk’? And what should I focus on?  Thankfully, I had the handy guide put together by SGH PTI to help me. It neatly broke down the Gemba Walk into 5 separate steps and supported my Walk from beginning to end. 

After doing the walk, I must say that the guide was easy to use and helpful, especially in these areas: planning, communicating with staff, and documenting.

1) Planning 

Just by looking at the guide, I was able to quickly decide what to focus on during my Gemba Walk. For example, Step 1 suggests to focus on the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the department, and to observe the current Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) closely. To plan for the walk, I headed over to Infonet to read up on the policies, processes, and other documentation relevant to the processes. On the walk, I also adopted the advice provided in Step 3, and focused on differences between the documented and observed processes, as well as areas of waste. 

2) Communicating with staff 

As suggested in Step 4, I verified my observations by speaking with the staff. I was initially hesitant to approach them as I was afraid of seeming intrusive, or not asking the “right” questions. However, the staff were friendly and open in their communication, and the discussions proceeded smoothly.

Besides gaining a better understanding of how processes in place are translated on the ground, having them share about the challenges they faced on the job was incredibly helpful in drawing my attention to potential areas for improvement that I might never have noticed otherwise. 

3) Documentation 

Step 4 taught me to use all the tools I had at my disposal to accurately document my takeaways from the Gemba Walk – not just words alone, but photos and videos, which could capture processes that may be difficult for others to visualize. These also served as excellent reference material after my return from the labs to begin translating my observations into improvement ideas, as well as springboards to brainstorm and refine improvement ideas with my team. 

To conclude, in an organization as large as SGH, it can be difficult to understand the challenges faced on the ground by only reading process documents. Gemba Walks, if performed properly, present the perfect mix of observations, conversations, and research. They also do not require prior in-depth knowledge of the processes before the Walk, and can be relatively simple to carry out.

The materials and observations collected on my Gemba Walk gave me a holistic understanding of the various laboratory processes. This helped me to craft a report and later present my improvement ideas to my team and the laboratories.