Commonly known as Gemba walks, Lean observation walks are important opportunities for learning for superintendents, construction management and administrative staff, construction executives, architects, engineers, and owners. If you are not doing Lean observation walks you are missing an opportunity to both support the project and your enterprise. Here are the basics for conducting the walk.

  1. Orient yourself to the project setting. What is the purpose of the project? Who is participating in its design and construction? When did it start and when should it be available for occupancy? What safety concerns need your attention?
  2. Observe for flow, variation and continuous improvement. What processes are in place to limit variation? How do the people building the project understand the planned flow? What signs are there that flow can be improved?
  3. Start at the end of the process. You need to understand how effective the team is at pulling work through the building. Do so by first looking at the work that is the most complete and work your way through to the part of the building that is the least complete.
  4. Before starting determine what specifically you would like to learn. You will make observations outside this central purpose, however it is useful to develop a learning Plan before beginning the walk. The walk is the Do that follows the learning Plan.
  5. Manage your disposition toward others. Be curious, open, and respectful. Have empathy for the challenges people doing the work may be having, whether with building to the design, addressing management processes or the physical and intellectual challenges imposed by the work.
  6. Record your observations, distinguishing between facts and opinions that render assessments about the work. Facts cannot be disputed. Assessments are conclusions you are drawing, often with incomplete knowledge.
  7. Share what you have learned with people on the project team. Be open to your assessments being challenged. This is the Check part of your improvement cycle. Coach the team where appropriate and share what you have learned with others in your enterprise to determine what changes you can make – the Act part of your improvement cycle – to help the work in your enterprise be better.