Gemba, also known as Genba (現場) is a Japanese word that means “field” or “place of work”. The term is often used in Lean Management to refer to the Gemba Walk, also sometimes called a field visit, which is the action of going to the workplace to see and understand the real work process, ask questions and gain as much information as possible from the field to help improve business processes.
What’s a Gemba Walk?
Gemba walk is similar to management by walking. It focuses on the field, which is where the real work takes place and where the added value is created. It is an essential aspect of the proper functioning of a business, which helps find improvement opportunities.
Gemba walks are getting more and more popular, especially in big companies. The process consists of a manager visiting the place where work is done and observing with his own eyes the conditions of the field instead of staying behind his desk making decisions based on reported information or feedback.
In fact, Gemba walks involve moving around the area in order to obtain information and data directly from the source without intermediaries. The person in charge has to analyze the situation by asking relevant open-ended questions that can highlight problems or areas of improvement in the field, such as:
- How does the process work?
- What can be done to improve the current situation and achieve the company’s goals?
- What are the resources or modifications needed for improvement?
- What are the problems or malfunctions in the field?
- How can they be erased or solved?
- How long does this process take?
By visiting the workplace, leaders and managers gain valuable insight about these issues and the flow of work. It allows them to uncover opportunities of improvement and learn better ways to support the organization and its employees.
This highlights the Gemba Walk as a collaborative approach similar to an audit, where the manager or leader should clearly understand the organization, its physical flows, information flows… with employees providing him details about what is done in the field and how.
The objective of the Gemba Walk is to “force” managers to leave their desks in order to see, observe, listen and question the work carried out by the front-line employees, directly in their workplace. To guarantee the success of a Gemba walk and achieve your business goals, you should focus on planning, execution and follow-up.
How to plan an efficient Gemba Walk
In order to do an efficient Gemba walk, the leader must plan out his walk pattern and note what to look for in each stop. He must know the goal of each process, who is the responsible manager for it, if the process achieves its goal or not, what are the causes of dysfunctions and how they can be improved.
The structure of Gemba walks is very situational, so the leader may take longer stops in certain areas to do a deeper dive. There is no standard generic walk pattern or “one size fits all” kind of Gemba walk. It should be adapted to the current condition in each area. The following steps are essential for the good deployment of your gemba walk:
1. Prepare yourself and the team
It is crucial for the leader that will do the Gemba walk to prepare himself by getting familiar with the processes and preparing relevant questions to find improvement opportunities. The manager should also communicate with his team members to explain what a gemba walk consists of and how it will benefit them. Introducing the concept to them before implementing the gemba walk will help them feel more comfortable and open to it.
2. Create a plan
The leader must come up with a plan before the date of the Gemba walk. This includes the purpose of the Gemba walk often related to a specific KPI. During the Gemba Walk, the leader asks in-depth questions about the process being observed. The plan helps him stay focused and ask questions about all the relevant topics.
3. Identify the processes to observe
The leader identifies the processes being observed before his Gemba walk, this can be HR, finance, shipping, manufacturing, maintenance, etc. This will spare him from missing any process.
4. Document your observations
It is quite impossible to remember everything that will happen during a Gemba Walk, so it is important for the leader to use the right tools to document observations. The Gemba walk app digitizes your walk so that you can optimize data collection time, analyze data in real-time and identify issues and opportunities proactively.
The app helps you create custom checklists, organize your gemba walk, write notes, take pictures and videos, plan follow-up actions as well as integrate insights into your preferred task management tools.
5. Ask questions
A leader must walk into a Gemba walk with an open mind; this means putting aside any assumptions about how work is done and not assuming that everything is done according to a standard. So, it is a good idea to ask why they do things this way, how they manage the process, why operations are done in a particular order, etc. Additionally, it is important to invite employees to make suggestions and point out any opportunities to improve the process.
Employees are the ones on the front line doing the work so they are more likely to give better insights on the process and ways to make it better. This also makes them feel valued and motivates them.
6. Analyze collected information
A Gemba walk is all about observation, so action is taken after the walk, when the leader analyzes the information gathered and reflects on it. Then and only then does the leader suggest solutions to improve the processes and eliminate any dysfunctions.
7. Do a follow-up with employees
To guarantee better results, the leader must follow up with employees about the solutions that have taken place, whether they were helpful or if there is more to do. This will also ensure ongoing improvement for the future.
The importance of Gemba walks
Gemba Walk is an important step that every business wishing to flourish should take to maintain its competitive advantage on the market and thrive. Its importance relies on the fact that it allows the company to achieve several objectives, namely:
A better understanding of the field
A gemba walk is not just a confirmation of the manager’s presence where he’s walking around the field aimlessly. Certainly, it is important for employees to know that their manager takes the time to come and observe the work process, but most importantly Gemba walks are all about the manager getting involved in business processes and with employees.
A field visit allows managers to become more familiar with the specificities of the work area, whether in terms of machines, tools, processes, services, or event relationships with the workforce.
Gemba walks allow leaders to:
- Appreciate the work that has already been done, as well as the work that remains to be done in terms of improvement and eradication of dysfunctions.
- Observe the respect or absence of a clearly defined process and working methods
- Question the way of doing things in order to encourage continuous improvement
A better relationship with employees
As it’s already known, a great leader is someone who values his employees and builds relationships. A Gemba walk is not about watching, trying to find mistakes and blaming someone. Rather, it aspires to find ways to improve processes while enlisting help from employees themselves.
A leader must let his employees feel confident and encourage them to make proposals and discuss new ideas. It is crucial to take the responses and ideas of employees into full consideration before making a decision as they are best fitted to resolve problems concerning their own respective specialties.
Also, lean thinking gives great importance to the participation of employees, consequently, the more they are involved in solving problems, the easier it will be for them to react to unforeseeable future situations. Gemba Walks promote teamwork and the efficient exchange of information. They also provide an additional communication channel, allowing for better communication.
Gemba walks allow leaders to:
- Get employees to better understand the realities of the organization
- Mobilize and motivate front-line employees
- Improve the management and coaching skills of responsible managers
Analysis of the information gathered and follow-up
Once the Gemba Walk is over, it is important to analyze the most relevant observations in order to draw useful conclusions. This will help the leader verify whether the official discourse is reflected in the practices, as well as to identify places and operations that create the most added value, and reciprocally those incurring waste. It is equally important to ensure the correct implementation of the solutions offered by the Gemba Walk as well as a good follow-up.