Designing software using the Gemba Walk

While you are developing software it’s crucial to understand how your software is transforming your customer’s organization. When you know how your software can help solve specific pain points you will be able to work towards a goal you are sure of is rewarding for you and your customer. The Gemba Walk is an insightful method to use when it comes to designing customer-specific software.

Gemba is a Japanese term meaning ‘the actual place’ or ‘the real thing’ (originally called ‘Genba’). In business, this is the place where work is done, the place to get a clear insight on how your customer is using your product, a personal observation of work. Gemba is all about the core of the business: Coming up with the best way to present the specific service or product to provide.

Because a Gemba walk is not scripted it is a very honest and therefore valuable way to understand the process of using a product. By visiting your customers and going through the process of using the product together you’ll find out the specific needs of your customer. Often these needs weren’t even clear for the customer themselves until they had to explain the process of using the product to someone else.

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A Gemba walk can, for instance, force high-level employees to take a step back and rethink the process a customer needs to go through in order to use the product or service they’re providing. For a team of highly skilled software developers it can be tricky to see through the eyes of a non-technical person, usually the customer, for whom a three-step process, for example, might be a ten or more step process.

The Gemba walk is an effective way to get insights about a customer’s organization and helps to understand how the product can be improved from a customer’s perspective.

Last year the Clay team visited one of our SALTO KS customers in Amsterdam: Coworking space for creative independents, The Wheelhouse. Founder Balster van Duijn was so kind to give us a tour through the stunning monumental 5 stories building looking over Achtergracht. It was very interesting and informative for the team to see how The Wheelhouse staff and members used SALTO KS as their access control solution in practice.

‘While using The Gemba method always keep in mind to show respect, not to criticize and focus on understanding’

A Gemba walk usually consists of two steps: Understanding the process customers need to go through in order to reach the desired outcome of your product and looking for improvements that can be made during this process. While doing so there are some focus points to keep in mind: Show respect, no criticism, focus on understanding (people, process and purpose), and don’t focus on future improvements. Looking beyond the software in search of improvements to the process helps to limit the amount of unnecessary work on software customers don’t actually need.

For software developers it’s important to sometimes get out of their comfort zones and find out what makes the customer buy or use the product they’ve been building. To get to know the core of an organization is one of the most valuable information to have while designing and building software. The Gemba walk could be a great tool for this.

Read more about SALTO KS customer The Wheelhouse and their integration with management platform Office R&D here.

Up for a Gemba walk yourself? Check out our career page to see Clay’s job openings so you soon might join the team on a Gemba walk!