Walking the Walk: Using Gemba Walks to Optimize Your Gaming & Hospitality Business

Interview with Jeff and Mason Gray, Raving Partners, Business Optimization By Christine Faria

Chris Faria:

Hey everyone, it’s Chris here from Tribal Gaming and Hospitality Magazine. Welcome to another special edition of TG&H On Air. We are speaking with Mason and Jeff Gray, Raving’s Business Optimization team.

Your expertise and your role, as Raving Partners, is to use foundational approaches of Lean Six Sigma to improve business efficiency and process execution. Tell me more about how these principles help gaming and hospitality companies.

Jeff Gray:

So, lean Six Sigma is a methodology that’s been around in many industries for many years and basically what it is, it’s looking at your end-to-end operations, your systems, your people, your procedures, and looking for opportunities to be better, to optimize them, to eliminate waste variation, business challenges, while always focusing on adding value to your customer and your workforce. And so there’s a lot of tools in that toolbox that will help you look at your overall systems and just make them more efficient, more effective, and make you more profitable. And that’s what this whole methodology is all about.

Mason Gray:

I actually just got back from OIGA and I had a really good conversations with some guests there and I talked about the importance of inputs and outputs. So to Jeff’s point, understanding all your inputs within your process helps you understand how you’re going to reach those goals and those outputs that you and your guests want to see. So you take care of what you put in your process, good things will come out your process.

CF: Today we’re specifically talking about one component, which is called the Gemba walk. Tell me what is a core objective of the Gemba walk?

JG: A Gemba walk is something that the Japanese have been doing for many, many years and it’s when you actually go see where the real work is taking place. When you do that and you go out one business silo or across the whole enterprise and really just observe, stand there for 15, 30 minutes and observe what’s happening in that area and look at how things are flowing. Look at how your people are interacting with your customers. And the goal is just to see how things are operating, where there’s opportunities for improvement.

Usually, what we do is we like to work with leadership to go out there, walk with us, and in some cases actually do the work while we’re there, so they can feel the pain, they can talk to their people, they can interact, just like when you see undercover boss. Yeah. Same kind of concept. Go in there and be an undercover boss, see what’s really happening. And then you can see at the end where you have to make changes and where these opportunities lie to improve systems, processes, people, and focus on your customer value. And it’s a real fun thing to do. We enjoy doing it. We videotape it, we gather metrics, we have fun debriefing.

MG: It’s a great opportunity to see really what’s happening out there in your business. I’d say an additional goal is to understand process performance. If you are an enterprise-wide company and you’re saying, hey, our services do this, our product does this, you know, we can help you do this, is your process actually performing to that standard? And so, a really important part is if you’re going to put your money where your mouth is, your business needs to show up and do what it says it’s going to do. So, we go in there with you and leadership and help you understand is your process performing properly? And if it’s not, we know where to focus our efforts for improvement.

CF: Is this process included in every project? And at what point is it implemented in the process?

JG: Yeah, this is the first thing you need to do. You can’t fix what you don’t understand. You know, we do the same thing over and over. We’re tackling the same issues, the same problems. We’re squeezing the balloon, we’re playing whack-a-mole. And so, when we understand what’s going on, we can begin to fix it. So, the first thing you do is ask “What are we doing? How is it working? Where are these opportunities? What are the gaps? What is our ideal final result? And how do we begin to meet that challenge to get there? And then you can understand what you need to do to fix it.

And it’s also important that there’s kind of iterations to the Gemba, right? Some Gemba’s are longer than others. If you’re studying, you know, every business line in the casino, well you’re going to be there for a while. If you’re just studying food and beverage, it’s probably going to take little less time. So, the Gemba happens in iterations.

There’s always that initial Gemba walk where you’re walking the entire process with leadership and you’re going to be pulling people off the line and, you know, taking two or three minutes to ask them how is their process performing and what are some things they want to see differently? What’s going well? And then when you get deeper and more focused in on scoped projects that are just focused on one process, you can also do the Gemba again, just in that specific business line. Start with the big umbrella Gemba, and then you kind of work your way through the Gemba because it shows you and tells you, yes, this is doing well. No, this isn’t. Let’s focus there. And then once you’ve done your improvement projects, do it again. Make sure, like I said earlier your process is truly performing correctly.

One of the things like Mason said, is when you look at the whole enterprise and you uncover all these issues, you’re not going to tackle them all at once. So, we will help you prioritize where you are bleeding, and where are you spending all your resources. Where are you burning money? Where are your customers dissatisfied? We take all of that and we can hone that into the areas of opportunity. Some quick hits within a week, you’ll see results. Some other things might take a month, two months, three months. But then it helps you prioritize to see results and get the information out there. Let people see that, yes, this does work. I can do it. It’s easy, it’s not rocket science. I can do more with what I have and let’s keep moving forward continually improving those systems and processes.

CF: I understand the words that you’re saying and the process, but now I would like you to really hone it in and give an example in a gaming or a hospitality situation, what this would really look like so our listeners could really understand how they could apply it to their operation.

JG: I think one of the things we did with one of one property we worked with was they had, there’s a couple issues, but one of them was just simple housekeeping. Okay? So, they had six or seven stories, three, 400 rooms, I’m not exactly sure. And each of their housekeepers were supposed to turn 18 rooms per day, and they weren’t making that. And so, we simply did a Gemba walk. Mason and I followed the housekeeping people as they went through their whole day and their procedures.

We found out they were going up and down elevators more times than we could even count to go get supplies. Their racks weren’t stored correctly. We did all these metrics and everything and they were doing like 14 or 15 rooms and just being stressed out. So, we did a spaghetti diagram flow of how they did all that. And we ended up moving a lot of the things that they needed closer to where they needed them. So, they weren’t going, spending like hours going up and down elevators all the way down to the storeroom.

Now at the end of the room, we had staging areas where they had what they needed, when they needed, where they needed. And they were able to meet more than 18 rooms a day just from doing those simple kind of things. Just from observing, looking at how many times they were walking back, how many miles, yeah, they were walking back and forth. That is time. And so, when you look at that, you put things where they need them, when they need them, they were able to optimize those processes, turn rooms, get people out on the floor faster, check them in early, all of those kind of things that are adding benefit just by simply observing and doing and following, monitoring what’s happening out there. So that’s the power. Not rocket science, it didn’t cost anything. Just how can we do it better and talking to the people doing the job, that was the key thing. And we have many stories like that all over the place. Food and beverage, maintenance, valet, security, compliance. Yeah. Table games, the floor, you name it. I could talk to you for hours.

CF: This leads me into my next question because this process seems like common sense, but sometimes you do need different eyes to see something that’s right in front of you. So, my question is, can operators truly practice this effectively on their own or is it better to get in a professional team?

JG: It’s better to start with a professional team. Bring us in first so you can observe how we do it. We can transfer knowledge to you, help you with our plan. There’s some method, there’s some checklist, things that you need to do, some metrics, how do you gather them? What are the cost of these inefficiencies? So those are the things we’ll teach you on our first discovery and maybe our second.

We’ll also have your people work with us, and as we do this, we’ll transfer that knowledge and skill so when we roll off, you can begin to build this in your infrastructure so you can begin to do this and prioritize those issues. And then there’s a whole host of tools that we can come back in and help you optimize those processes with that data, with those observations. What do you need to do next? Then you call us back and we’ll help you execute those bigger type of enterprise-wide projects and things of that nature to sustain goals.

MG: Yeah, I was going to say that’s the importance of the next phases of Lean Six Sigma when you get into the Yellow Belt course you want to make sure everyone in that Yellow Belt course has these tools to effectively run Gemba’s because then they can start chartering their own projects. So like Jeff said, we’ll come in there and teach you how to do these things and before we roll off in the months to come, we want to make sure your infrastructure and your culture is set up to sustain Lean Six Sigma. And it goes hand in hand and Lean’s fun.

You know, that’s the best thing. You can set up a culture wherever you want. One of the main things I get asked is, so how am I supposed to do this? What am I supposed to do here? I said, guess what? You get to decide that that’s the best thing about a Lean Six Sigma culture. It’s not just cookie cutter, it’s a mental tool belt and there’s a lot of different things you’re able to do. And so, you can make Lean, look how you want it, at your company or your property.

You can also find out more about business optimization for your organization by scheduling a call with Jeff and Mason. Call 775-29-7864 or visit betravingknows.com!