Guest Column | December 6, 2022

Learning The Work By Taking A Walk

By Steve Snyder

Pictured from left, IT team members Diana Benedict, Sakthi Ayyadurai, Naval Subbarayan, Vinh Huynh and Garth Rygh, director of Denver Water’s water distribution group, visit a lead service line replacement as part of the Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Denver Water IT team headed into the field to learn how they could better support the organization.

“You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

Through the years, you’ve likely heard various versions of that quote. No one has been able to definitively attribute the source of the original quote, but the thought behind it still resonates.

If you want to understand someone or something, you should experience it for yourself.

Virginia Roberts, Denver Water’s director of enterprise IT, believes that wholeheartedly.

“When I learn more about the business I serve, I can become a better service provider,” Roberts said. 

“I wanted our team to understand how other people at Denver Water do their work, so we can provide better IT services for them.”

The quest for better understanding led Roberts and her team to start regular “Gemba walks” this year. 

“Gemba” is Japanese for “the real place.” In Denver Water’s Continuous Improvement approach to business, “Gemba” refers to the place where the real work happens.

Denver Water’s IT team learns about the water treatment process during a Gemba walk at Denver Water’s new Northwater Treatment Plant, which is under construction west of Highway 93 north of Golden. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Roberts and her team spent months visiting different sections of Denver Water’s workforce, seeking to understand how the work is done and how the IT team could provide solutions to do that work more efficiently.

“It’s amazing what you see when you get out of an office and go to Denver Water’s different job sites,” Roberts said. 

“It makes you appreciate the complexity of our operation and how truly dedicated and smart the people who work here are.”

Members of Denver Water’s IT group during one of their Gemba walks learning about the role played by underground meters that measure water use. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Since Roberts started the Gemba walk program in April, the team has spent more than 500 hours visiting different worksites. 

Patrick McCoy, an IT change management manager, did 15 walks over the summer. 

“It also helped me better understand where I fit into our organization,” McCoy said. “By better understanding what others do around the organization, it helped me figure out where I fit here.”

Patrick McCoy, IT change management manager, on a Gemba walk to learn more about what Denver Water’s Customer Care team does to help customers. Photo credit: Denver Water.

One of McCoy’s main takeaways was the passion he saw in every employee, regardless of his or her job.

“No matter where I went, I saw our employees trying to help people with their problems,” McCoy said. “And I saw that in every department. People weren’t just going through the motions. They were doing everything they could to truly make a difference for our customers.

“I felt so connected,” McCoy continued. 

“We all do different jobs, but we’re all striving for the same mission. We’re trying to help our customers and make our community a better place. It reminded me why I came to Denver Water in the first place — to make a difference.”

Said Roberts, “I’m grateful to the other people at Denver Water who opened their doors to us and were willing to teach us. Now we have are responsible for providing an even better level of customer service to them in return.”

Denver Water’s IT team on a Gemba walk at the new, state-of-the-art Northwater Treatment Plant under construction west of Highway 93 north of Golden. Pictures from left: Mark Martinez, Jeff O’Reilly, Christine Perez, Ernest Herrera, Clyde Harris (in back), Jeff Chavez, Naval Subbarayan, Kevin Jesik (in back), Virginia Roberts, Sam Brown, Todd Hamlin, Diana Benedict, Dan Clark. Photo credit: Denver Water.