Honsha leading Northwest Kidney Centers Lean initiatives

Gemba walking – observing and learning about work in action

By Joyce Jackson
President and CEO


This week our 11-person executive group went Gemba walking. What does that mean? In the kaizen world, it means management goes to the frontline to look around and learn.

A Gemba walk is designed to allow leaders to identify safety hazards, observe machinery and equipment conditions, ask about practice standards, gain knowledge about work and build relationships with employees.

First the group went to the Distribution Center on Martin Luther King Way, a facility that many of you probably have never seen. Our technical services, supply chain/materials management and warehouse functions are based there.

We watched as Phil Cunningham loaded a truck, and then he helped us better understand what is in a pallet, who receives it at a dialysis unit and the challenges of moving products from here to there. We looked at safety cabinets in the warehouse to see where we store high-risk materials. We asked folks using forklifts how they move products high on warehouse shelves.

Then we moved to SeaTac Pavilion, where we saw the nearly-complete renovation project that will improve the patient care space with a new nursing station, a suite for home patient training, clinics and a new Aquaboss. On my Gemba walk I spoke with Jeff Grisim, our water purification engineer, about the benefits of this state-of-the-art water purification system that improves safety, lowers staff work, conserves water and thus is very “green.” Mary Lewis, clinical director in Education, told us how the new skills lab, with a bed and human dummy, is used to teach staff how to work with special care patients.

distribution-center_3Next, we visited Medical Records, where Mae Gallardo showed us how she inputs hospital and clinic visit information into cyberREN so that we have all of the information necessary to address patients’ overall health. I also spoke with Howard Lafferty, who was compiling statistics about the care given in May, so we can appropriately track activity and bill for services. Holly Rowlette in Patient Billing told us about how she is following up on individual patient bills for which we did not receive accurate payments.

Gemba walks are the action of going to see the actual process, understand the work, ask questions through what kaizen calls “humble inquiry” and learn. The executive group gained many valuable insights on our Gemba walk that will help us as we design space and propose tools that support the vital work our frontline staff does each day.