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April 19, 2020

Gemba Walk Checklist for Remote Teams


A Gemba Walk is one of the most common practices in SAFe — which is a scaled Agile framework that encourages lean practices from production systems.  Put simply, a Gemba Walk means to go see what is actually going on where valuable work happens.

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What is the Purpose of a Gemba Walk?

Gemba Walk literally means “the actual place” in Japanese and more or less refers to an onsite observation. It is all about making sure that you as a manager will make the right decision by going to the actual source of real work.

In an industry context, that means getting up from the desk and walking along the production lines. But in a software context, it is more abstract. One thing is certain: you have to go beyond PowerPoint decks, emails, and other static forms of information that is not a real-time view of where value-adding work happens.

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What is the Gemba Process From Home?

The intention of a Gemba Walk is to be very present where work is being delivered. So how can you watch a process if you’re not there to see it?  These are the general aspects of a Gemba walk that you’ll need to adjust:

1. Digitally Visualize the Process.

In today’s software-driven world, it is fairly straightforward to digitize processes and tracking throughout them. If you use programs like Zoom or Slack, screen sharing while discussing issues is a great way to actually see what is going on. An Agile planning tool is a must these days to have that conversation.  If you’re using one digital platform to create and store things like Kanban boards and your product backlog, you can more easily get a high-level understanding of the process.

2. See the Actual Product.

Use the meetings you probably already have scheduled, but ensure the format is right. When it makes sense, let participants demonstrate what’s being discussed rather than providing PowerPoint presentations or other documents. Look at the actual code, the actual product, and share how it is done via screen sharing.

3. Ask Questions.

Without the nonverbals cues you can see in person, it’s important to ask many questions, and ask specific questions. Have team members explain directives in their own words. Directly ask if an initiative is understood. Use questions to help identify where value is created and how it’s delivered. Questions may be perceived in different ways depending on how you’re delivering them, and, once again, sharing your video in a conference call will let others see your own facial expression and nonverbal cues to interpret your intentions.

4. Take Your Time Together.

You need to truly understand the problem or process that you are observing. Doing a Gemba walk is not about micro-managing or telling people how to do their work better. It is about solving problems and uncovering better ways to deliver value together based on reality. In a digital context, this may take longer, so make sure you set aside enough time to reach this understanding.


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A Gemba Walk Checklist

Now that you have practices to remotely accomplish critical parts of the Gemba Walk, you can incorporate them into an overall checklist:

1. Identify The Objective.

What issue, process or outcome are you there to observe? What specifically do you want to gather information about and understand?

2. Prepare The Team.

A Gemba Walk is about continuous improvement, not a performance review. Communicate to all involved what you will be observing and why. For the remote Gemba Walk, it’s also helpful to explain the process by which you’ll be conducting the observation. Give notice to people who will need to share their screen or otherwise participate.

3. Prepare Questions About the Process.

Remember that the purpose is to understand through observation. You’re not focusing on people’s personal abilities. Factor in the advice in the section above about asking a lot of questions to compensate for not being physically present. Some kinds of things you may want to ask about include:

  • Process analysis
    • Is the process clear?
    • Does each step in the process bring value?
  • Problem solving
    • What are the most common types of problems?
    • How do you determine the source of each problem?
  • Tools and resources
    • Do you have everything you need to understand this process and what is being worked on?
    • Are the workers equipped with the tools they need to go through the process efficiently?
  • Continuous improvement
    • What are the most important priorities?
    • What other questions do the workers think I should be asking?

4. Record What You See, Don’t Make Suggestions.

You simply want to record observations and answers to questions. Your analysis will be more thorough after you have all the facts. Record the observation with notes and/or a screen recording if possible. You may uncover improvements together with the workers in the process, but let it come from them.

5. Invite Another Perspective.

It may benefit you to invite another set of eyes. Someone from another department with a different point of view can offer valuable questions you might not think of.


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Easier SAFe With Team Productivity Tools

Conducting SAFe practices remotely is easier when you have the right tool. Helix Plan (formerly Hansoft) lets you manage product backlogs, and visualize processes — with, for example, Kanban boards — all in one place. It’s perfect for remote Agile teams because it integrates with the tools you already use. And it’s free for small teams.


Simplify Agile Planning for Free


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