A few years ago I discovered the Gemba walk. The team I was a Scrum master in was merged with another team. Besides teammates that had to get to know each other, we also merged the two domains. One team was working on backend processes to help automate flows, while the other team mostly worked for our Marketing department.

During the first period of the new team, I noticed that I did not have experience or knowledge of the marketing domain. After some research online I came across the concept of the Gemba walk, and how they could help me understand our stakeholders, and their wishes better.

What is a Gemba walk?

The term “Gemba” comes from the Japanese language and means “the actual place”. In general business language, this refers to the place where the value is created. As an example of a factory, this is the factory floor. The term Gemba walk comes from Lean manufacturing, and the idea is that you go to the place where the value is created, to see the actual process, understand the employee and ask questions.

I used the Gemba walk to get to know my stakeholders from the marketing department in a better way. Several stakeholders of the marketing department showed their daily work, struggles, and reason why they do their job.

Gemba walk in an office

This helped me to understand the “why” of stakeholders in a much deeper way. Instead of wondering why we had a lot of SEO tickets on our backlog, I now know what the value is that SEO brings to our website, and how much traffic it generates. With our UX specialists, I now understand why our website is designed the way it is. And our conversion specialist showed me why it is so important to do A/B tests.

Besides the better understanding of the marketing domain, I noticed that the stakeholders were really enthusiastic when you show some interest in their work, and they love to show, and explain what they do. I learned useful things, and as a side effect made some connections with stakeholders. Showing interest in their work helped create goodwill.

Things to keep in mind

It is good to remember what the Gemba walk is not. The goal is to get informed through observation and interaction with your coworkers. It is not about:

  • Tell people how to do their job
  • Disregard the input of your coworker
  • Or any behavior that will give people the feeling that you are just there to criticize

In general, your attitude during a Gemba walk should be of a fly on the wall. You are there to observe and ask questions only to clarify things. During your questions keep an eye out to ask neutral questions and try to not let your questions be biased through your own opinions or views. If your coworkers get the feeling you spending time with them is because you want to use it for their performance review, chances are they will not share their real struggles, but try to look good.

In conclusion

The Gemba walk can be very powerful to get to know your stakeholders. Try to go in with an open mind, and do not let your preconceptions influence your actions. Give your stakeholders the feeling you are there to learn, and I am confident you will learn some valuable lessons!

If you are interested in checking out more lessons I learned as a Scrum master? Check my blog post on the 4 lessons I learned as a starting scrum master. Sign up for the newsletter, and you don’t have to miss any new posts, articles, or personal updates.