What Is Gemba Walk and How To Do It - Good1 Consulting

The best way to categorize the Gemba Walk is that it is an effort towards Continuous Improvement. Continuous improvement is a core ideology of Lean management philosophy that capitalizes on improving production by reducing processes that restrain productivity while delivering value from the perspective of the user.1)

“Gemba” is a Japanese term that translates to “the real place” or “the actual place”.2) Lean management philosophies believe that improvement to output can be made by managers if they moved out of their meetings and work reports once in a while, and went down to the place where the real work is done. The earliest development of this concept has been credited to the Toyota company in the late 1970s. And although there have been other contributors, Ohno Taiichi, a Japanese engineer, is regarded as the father of Gemba Kanri.3)

Guiding Principles of Gemba Walk

Ohno firmly believed that walking around the workplace, checking signs, charts, data and standards was an indispensable practice for the manager.4) He recommended that once in a while, managers leave their daily routine, come to the Gemba to see how production happens, and build a trust-based relationship with their workers.

As an executive, you should put in mind while preparing for a Gemba walk that it isn’t a process that works with a one-standard-fit-all process. There isn’t a template tailored for every kind of its event. Its success and the method employed depend mostly on the purpose and what the manager hopes to achieve. However, deriving from lean management philosophies, we can always find three key elements to guide us at Gemba walks.

  1. Observe: The goal is to regularly go around all the teams and departments in your workplace and see for yourself every worker at their task. It is by observing first-hand that executives and leaders will be able to identify wasteful processes and make improvements.
  2. Ask questions: This is another important element. Learning is the goal of observance and true learning can only be achieved through active communication. Managers will have to see walking at the Gemba as an opportunity to learn and ask questions to their workers. This is how they get a basic understanding of the work that is being done and its processes. However, managers must be willing to listen more than they speak.
  3. Respect: Respect for employees is key to the overall success of a Gemba. A Gemba walk is not the place to say “Hey you are not doing this right.” It is not the place to make corrections or to say every thought that comes to mind. It is the place to listen, and by listening, gain the trust of your worker who in turn have felt that you trust them. The Gemba walk is the place for the executives to put off any bossy tone and employ a friendlier one, albeit professionally. They should keep in mind that they are there to make improvements on the process and not the people.

As earlier mentioned, there are no hard set rules to a Gemba walk. However, taking note of these key elements will guide executives on how to relate with workers on the Gemba, and achieve effective results from the expedition.

Suggested Steps To Follow on a Gemba Walk

A successful Gemba walk relies on good planning with a clear vision of the purpose of going to the Gemba and its perfect execution.5)

The following steps are not to be applied verbatim to all industries. Managers can tweak to a sequence and theme that best suits their plan and purpose.

Brief the workers

The workers in the Gemba need to be prepared, and it is always helpful to explain exactly what a Gemba walk is to them. This brief can be done to an assembly of the employees, assisted by written materials on Gemba walk and its importance. 

The employees should be able to understand that it is important to remove the issues they encounter in the production process, so there would be an increase in their output. This brief would enable the workers who are going to be observed and asked questions to know what to expect, prepare to have some conversations, and arrive at the goals of the Gemba walk.

Draw up a plan

This is where the executives outline the goals going to the Gemba. These goals will act as a focus guide for fashioning questions that demand the things that the executives desire to know.

Questions should be drafted to suit different teams and departments and their tasks. 

Questions to be asked should be drafted according to the 5 Ws. For example:

  • Who? Who is involved? Who are the team members? Who provides input for the process?
  • What? What are the tools employed? What are the input and output of the process? What obstacle clogs the process?
  • Where? Are the materials needed for the process at a convenient distance?
  • When? Does input arrive as at when due? Does the output pull the work done at this process through or are they usually left idle?
  • Why? What value does this work add to the finished product?

For already mentioned reasons, examples of questions not be asked at the Gemba are: Who is to blame for this? Who would be taking responsibility and suffer consequences? etc.

Go with a team

The Gemba walk should be done along with a team. It isn’t a bad idea to look at things from another set of eyes and get their opinions on your observations. Persons to include in teams include a sales representative, a vendor, a colleague from another department, and even a customer.

Follow the flow of value

The flow of value is a map that shows the processes and flow of communication that leads from the conception of a product to its delivery. 

It is believed that space for improvement is often found in the handoffs between teams, departments, and processes. By following the flow of value, executives will be able to observe and discover issues in the process.

Executives should also indulge workers to identify issues that they find in their tasks, handoffs, and the processes overall. This would help to find organizations that might have been missed on the Gemba walk.

Relate with the people, evaluate the processes

As mentioned before, executives are to assess the processes and the gaps in between, not the workers. In fact, contrary to evaluating the workers, there are going build a trust relationship with them. The goal is to see the processes for themselves, evaluate every step, and look at ways that they can be improved—the processes, not the people.

One sure way to achieve this is by being respectful to the employees at the Gemba and preparing them for the Gemba walk before the executives arrive. This would include reassuring the workers, and telling them to be honest with the answers they provide. It should be understood that their contributions will lead to making things better at the workplace.

Take notes

As the quote goes, the weakest ink is stronger than the greatest memory. Executives should be able to take a record of every observation on their notepad. Therefore, they should go to the Gemba equipped with writing materials like biros and jotters to take down notes of things that they see, ideas that come to them, and suggestions by workers as they walkthrough. 

Visiting teams can also go along with other tools like sound recorders and cameras. All documented observations would be submitted on the continuous improvement platform. This where they would be utilized to arrive at decisions to be executed, and improvements to be made.

Other checklist questions to ask on the Gemba walk6) are:

  • What are you currently working on?
  • Is there an established process for this kind of work?
  • Do you have any problems with the established process?
  • Why is there a problem?
  • How can you fix the problem?
  • What do you do to recognize the root cause of the problem?
  • Who do you speak with if there is a specific problem?

After the Gemba walk, then comes the time for executives to sit down with leaders and other stakeholders to strategize on all observations made during the walk. This might be a lengthy process, and rightfully so because hasty feedback isn’t advisable. 

Post-Gemba is all about going back to where you started—the purpose of the walk in the first place. All brainstorming should drive towards the purpose of the walk and should include more people capable of making rich opinions that would lead to a very healthy decision. This is what settles the purpose of the work and finalizes plans to be executed.

Getting the Most Out of a Gemba Walk

Managers are encouraged to have Gemba walks regularly, however, they are advised not to make them a periodic event. Going to the Gemba on different days in each month will afford them, executives, the opportunity to see the process at different stages, and also to observe seasonal circumstances that they might have otherwise missed.

More so, Gemba walks help executives communicate the goals of the organization to the workers. By creating this interaction between the employer and the employee, workplace attitude tends to be revitalized and the result is a two-way understanding of what the organization demands, and what needs to be improved for it to work even better.

References

References
1What is Lean Management. Kanbanize. Retrieved on May 22 2021. https://kanbanize.com/lean-management/what-is-lean-management
2What is the origin of Gemba. Creative Safety Supply. Retrieved on May 22 2021. https://www.creativesafetysupply.com/qa/gemba/what-is-the-origin-of-gemba
3Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. January 1 2021. Ohno Taiichi. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ohno-Taiichi
4Harish Jose. April 20 2016. Ohno and the Gemba Walk. Harish’s Notebook. https://harishsnotebook.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/ohno-and-the-gemba-walk/
5Kade Jansson. October 26 2017. 11 Steps to an Effective Gemba walk. KaiNexus Blog. https://blog.kainexus.com/improvement-disciplines/lean/gemba-walks/11-steps-to-an-effective-gemba-walk
6Gemba Walk: Where the real work happens. Kanbanize. Retrieved on May 23 2021. https://kanbanize.com/lean-management/improvement/gemba-walk
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