What is Gemba?

Gemba is a Japanese term that means “the real place”. Gemba is the core of LEAN management. It is where the real work takes place. You can’t expect different results from your team if you sit in your corner office and attend performance meetings. Instead, you must go to where the real work is.

What is a Gemba Walk?

The LEAN management philosophy includes the Gemba walk. This walk was created to enable managers and leaders to observe and engage with employees and gain insight into the work process and identify opportunities for continuous improvement.

Taiichi Ohno is the creator of the Gemba Walk, and he believed it provides executives with a unique opportunity to step out of their day and see the real work, as well as build trusting relationships with other workers.

These are the 3 most important components of a Gemba Walk.

  1. Visit. Gemba walks are designed to encourage managers and leaders at all levels to walk around their shops and find wasteful activities.
  2. Find out why. Gemba walk’s main goal is to investigate the value stream in depth and identify it’s problems through active communication. Good leaders are always open to listening, not talking. This is why you might use 5 Whys to pinpoint problematic areas of the process.
  3. Respect people. Remember that a Gemba Walk is not a “boss” walk. You don’t need to point fingers or blame people. You’re not there to review and judge the results. You are there to work with the team and solve problems together. Focus on the weaknesses of the process and not the people.

11 Steps to follow when you visit Gemba

Before you go on the shop floor, make sure you have a plan. Follow the steps. Your goals and objectives should guide the plan.

Gemba walking is a popular management method. Leaders can gain valuable insight about the flow of value within the organization by visiting the workplace. They also learn new ways to support their employees. This approach encourages collaboration between employees, who share details about what they do and why. Planning, execution, and follow-up are key to great results. These are the top steps to make your next Gemba Walk a success.

1. Get the team ready

It is crucial that all team members involved in the Gemba walk understand what it is and how it can be used. It is their job to remove any obstacles that hinder them from adding the most value. Everyone will feel more at ease and open to having a conversation about the walk before it actually happens.

2. Make a plan

Gemba walks are not to be confused with Management By Walking Around (MBWA), which is a different approach where leaders just wander around and take part in the activities of employees. Gemba walks should have a purpose. They are often linked to a particular concern or Key Performance Indicator (KPI).

Gemba walk managers ask very detailed questions about what is being observed. Who are the participants? What materials are used? What are you doing? What do you do? AT what time does the task occur? What is the outcome? MBWA doesn’t require that level of depth and it does not usually focus on open-ended questions.

3. Follow the Value Stream

Handoffs between people, departments, and processes are often where the greatest opportunities for improvement exist. These areas that have high waste potential can be identified and addressed by following the flow value.

Employees are encouraged to propose shifts or areas of improvement that could benefit from a Gemba walk. This will not only help you find opportunities to improve, but it will make the process more collaborative. They are the ones doing the actual work and have a greater chance of seeing the process from a different perspective. The value you bring to the table is not a new perspective on existing processes. Asking people for their suggestions is a way to engage them and make it clear that you are there to support, not criticize.

4. Never lose sight of the process, or people

Gemba walks are not performance evaluations of employees. It is designed to help improve processes by observing, understanding, and eventually improving them. It should not feel harsh or threatening.

It’s a good idea to inform employees at the Gemba that you will be asking them many questions about how, what, when, and why things happen. It is important to be clear that you don’t seek “right” answers. You only need honest and complete answers. You want them to tell you if work isn’t being done according to the Standard and not to cover it up. They must understand that you are asking questions out of genuine curiosity and not to be accused or confronted.

5. Keep a record of your observations

Gemba walks are full of information, and it is important that you have tools for recording your observations.

Log your observations – Although we may be stating the obvious, it is important to have a way to record your observation. The time to react to what you see after your Gemba walk and not during it. A way to recall what you saw and what you thought is essential. You should be able to upload your observations via a mobile phone or tablet, so you can track their implementation and keep track of the impact of your Gemba walks. In a pinch, a pen and paper are sufficient. However, you should still make sure to follow up.

A camera It can be very helpful later to browse through a gallery or even just a few seconds of video. Respect all people you photograph. You may find graph paper useful if you don’t have a camera at your workplace.

Open mind You don’t want to let preconceived notions cloud your observations. You shouldn’t assume that everyone performs the task the same way or that the work is performed according to the Standard.

6. Ask questions

It is difficult to let go of preconceived notions about how work is done. You shouldn’t assume everything is done in accordance with the standard. Ask employees why they do what they do. Ask employees about their work documentation, how they handle exceptions and why certain operations are done in a particular order.

The Gemba Walk’s 5 Ws provides a great structure for all the questions that you would like to ask.

  • Who? – Who are you observing in the process of observation? Who is responsible for the input to the process? Who are the “customers?” of the process? Pro tip: Don’t ask who is responsible for the problems.
  • When– Are process inputs readily available? Are outputs available when needed? Do you see the waste of time?
  • Where– Is the area where the work is done in accordance with 5S? Is the equipment and materials easily accessible? Are you aware of motion waste?
  • What? – What are both the inputs to and the outputs of the process. What are the obstacles that prevent flow?
  • Why? – What added value does this work bring to the customer’s life?
  • Do not suggest changes during the walk

Gemba walks are an opportunity to observe, not take action. While it may be tempting to rush to find solutions or make changes immediately, you should take time to reflect before making any decisions. Leaders who throw solutions at people undermine their ability to solve problems on their own. A DMAIC improvement cycle or PDSA can help ensure that the changes that are made will address the issue. We also make sure that the right people are involved, which is usually the people who do the work.

7. Participate in teams

Although not all Gemba walks need to be done in a group, it is a great idea to bring along a leader from another functional area of your organization to gain a fresh perspective. A person who is less familiar with the process may ask different questions to gain a better understanding of the work.

8. Determine Who should go on a Gemba Walk

A customer: This may seem controversial and not always a good idea. However, today’s customers value transparency, and are often curious about how the sausage is made. You might also find things they are less likely to value than you.

A vendor: If your team uses consumable products, software or equipment, inviting the vendor along to your walk might prove useful. They might be able suggest best practices or spot errors in the way the product is used. You may be able to suggest ways they can improve the product.

A peer in another department: It’s easy to get so used to seeing problems every day that we don’t notice them. If you go on frequent Gemba walks, a second pair of eyes might prove to be valuable.

One your sales representatives: It is crucial that people pitching your product to customers understand the process and how it relates to customer value.

9. Mix up the schedule

Gemba walks should be noted on leaders’ calendars. However, it shouldn’t be repeated every month. It is a good idea for leaders to take Gemba walks at different times throughout the day, on different days, or in different parts of the month to gain a better understanding of the process.

10. Follow up with employees

Sometimes, the Gemba walk results will be obvious immediately as changes are made and/or an improvement cycle begins. However, even if there is no immediate action, it is important that employees follow up with you. Communicate what you’ve learned and what the next steps will be, if necessary.

Managers can easily assign improvement projects based on the Gemba walk to individuals and teams. This removes any friction that could slow down progress. Smart notifications help keep everyone informed and ensure that no one is left behind. This technology not only helps organize and streamline the work but also sends a strong signal to the team that incremental improvements are important and that managers don’t just ask for input to look engaged at Gemba walks. It also shows that leaders are willing to invest in positive change.

11. Return to the Gemba

After a Gemba walk, make sure you return to the Gemba to verify that changes have been made. While KPIs may give you an indication of the effectiveness of improvement, they are not as effective as direct observations.

This is a big objection that many people have. They are too busy to go on regular Gemba walks.

Gemba Walks can eliminate many of the time-consuming activities. To address common issues or concerns in your workplace, you don’t have to email back and forth. It can be timesaving to get a firsthand view of a problem than reading third-hand or second-hand accounts. After all, images are processed faster than text in the human brain. Any way to speed up your understanding of what is happening at the front lines will reduce the time it takes to figure it all out from afar.

Many of our customers’ methods to reduce waste and increase customer value are similar to Gemba walks. They are simple but extremely powerful. Simplicity should not be mistaken for complacency. For the best results, it is important to execute well. These best practices will ensure you leave each meeting with the right information to help you make informed decisions about improving processes and results.

Gemba Walk Checklist

You should prepare a checklist before you start a Gemba Walk. This will help you to focus and target your efforts.

You should include questions to help you better understand the process that you will be following. The theme of your Gemba walk may dictate the questions you ask.

Gemba Checklist

Post-Gemba Walking

You will need to take some time to organize your thoughts before you can make any decisions based on the Gemba walk observations. Early feedback is crucial, although it can be very damaging. Therefore, it is important to meet with your leadership team and analyze the situation. Even better if you can invite the workers you have observed and the workers who provided you with the most valuable information.

All the data you have collected in your continuous improvement process should be used.

This meeting is held after every Gemba walk and may include participants from other departments. To make the best decision, it is important to consider as many perspectives as possible. It will lead to improvement.

The post-Gemba walk completes the loop and pays respect to those who were observed. This will make it easier to continue leading successful Gemba walks in the future.