Management By Walking Around (MBWA) is a management style where a manager walks around to the various people/workstations, seeing what’s going on, talking to people, observing and directing as they feel appropriate.
Gemba is Japanese for “the actual place” and is used in the Lean Methodology to represent the idea of managers periodically “walking the line”, or going to the workplace to see how things are going, listen to people, and observe what’s happening to better understand value creating and identify waste.
At first glance, MBWA and Gemba seem like the same thing. The manager leaves their office, goes to where the work is happening, looks around, and makes some changes. Sounds equivalent, no?
Actually, no. Because while the physical activity, walking around, is the same, the motivation and the process are pretty different. MBWA is spot checking on the people. Seeing what they’re doing, understanding what their concerns and impediments are, and making sure there’s good alignment on tasks and goals.
Gemba, on the other hand, is about checking on the value stream. Seeing what directly contributes to it and what adds friction and delay, then figuring out how to maximize the former and minimize the latter. And it often doesn’t happen during the Gemba walk. Instead, the walk is used to gather information. Asking questions and listening to answers. Getting the big picture and filling in the details. Then, later, with thoughtful deliberation, making decisions and acting on them.
Both have their place. Gemba focuses on the value stream, which is what we’re here for. Adding customer value. MBWA, on the other hand, focuses on the people. Since people are the ones adding value, we need to focus on them.
We need to be thoughtful and make sure both are getting done, at the right times. And, since we’re all WfH, do it without actually walking.