The many sides of a Gemba walk

Gemba refers to the place where work is done. This can be a factory, a sales floor, a hospital admission desk, a call center, or anywhere people add value to products or services. Gemba walks are an important part of the lean business management methodology and they provide substantial value to organizations looking to achieve continuous improvement.

A Gemba walk is a powerful tool to help business leaders better understand what goes on in their organization and optimize operations. If you’ve ever been involved in a Gemba walk, you know that it can be the ultimate eye-opening experience.

What is a Gemba walk?

The Japanese word “Gemba” is a compound word composed of two smaller words: “gen” and “ba.” The first, “gen,” means actual place or the place where the actual work process takes place. The second, “ba,” means, in the case of manufacturing, the area where services are delivered. 

For example, in a manufacturing facility, this means observing what’s happening on the assembly line, floor by floor if necessary. A Gemba walk is an invaluable tool for team leaders who want to optimize operations and foster a culture of continuous improvement. 

A Gemba walk aims to get an accurate picture of how things are working in reality by observing work processes and talking to employees. It helps identify issues and potential areas of improvement.

Who invented the Gemba walk?

What are the key elements of Gemba walk?

Gemba walk is a crucial part of the 5S process, a set of tools used to improve workplace organization and efficiency. A Gemba walk is a brief tour of the workplace that focuses on finding issues or opportunities for improvement. The purpose of this practice is to bring workers and managers together so they can talk about issues and find solutions. It allows leaders to see what’s going on and gives employees a chance to be heard by decision makers.

1. Pick a theme

Before starting your Gemba walk, it’s essential to plan and pick a theme for your walk. This will help focus your attention on something specific during your tour. For example, if you want to investigate how long it takes for materials to move through various production steps, this would be your focus for the walk.

2. Prepare your team

The most important thing is that everyone on the team knows what a Gemba walk is. It may seem intimidating for employees to have someone observing them and being inquisitive about job-related matters. Employees should feel comfortable during Gemba walks so it’s important for managers to explain how this practice seeks to improve the work environment and make their jobs easier. 

3. Focus on the process, not on people

If a problem with a process is noticed, the focus should be on the process and not on the people involved. If a problem arises with employees, there are usually established policies and procedures that address these issues.

If a policy or procedure does not work correctly, it needs to be adapted to prevent reoccurring issues. The focus of the Gemba walk is always on the process, ensuring that it is effective. Gemba walks should not be an excuse to micromanage. It is rather a tool to gather information and feedback to improve processes.

4. Be where the value stream is

Understanding how the value stream works and how disruptions occur is essential. To use lean management tools effectively, you need to be present when something happens and be able to learn from events or incidents. It’s important to have a holistic view of your entire value stream. This is only possible if you are present as often as possible and follow your value stream from beginning to end.

5. Record your observations

The most important part of a Gemba walk is collecting and writing down observations during the walk. Observing the work environment is critical to understand the problems that need to be solved. You want to take notes about everything (obvious hazards, workflow issues, broken equipment, etc.). 

The Gemba walk app helps you thoroughly document issues by allowing you to: 

  • Create custom checklists 
  • Organize your Gemba walk 
  • Take notes of issues and problems using checklists, textual notes, pictures, videos, etc.
  • Generate actionable insights and ideas
  • Integrate insights into your preferred task management tools

Digitize your Gemba walks 

What are the golden rules of Gemba?

  • When an issue emerges, document it thoroughly;
  • Collaborate with others;
  • Execute temporary actions;
  • Determine the root cause;
  • Standardize to avoid repeats.

Why do businesses perform Gemba walks?

Gemba walks are a vital element of lean manufacturing. They are designed to bring managers and workers closer together, allowing both sides to better understand what is going on in the workplace. The aim is to improve communication and efficiency by eliminating bottlenecks.

Japanese companies have used Gemba walks for decades. However, they’re becoming increasingly popular in Western countries as well. Here are some reasons why businesses perform Gemba walks:

1. To ensure that employees are working effectively

When managers perform Gemba walks, they can see if the people overseeing a particular task are doing their jobs correctly or whether they need additional training. This helps ensure that employees have all the tools they need to do their jobs properly and efficiently, leading to improved customer service and employee morale.

2. To identify areas where improvements can be made

Gemba walks allow managers to identify what areas of their business can be improved to focus on those areas during future Gemba walks or during meetings with staff members who aren’t performing up to par at work.

3. To increase employee input and engagement

Gemba walks help team leaders build trust among employees by showing them that management cares about what goes on at work. 

4. Identify bottlenecks in processes

A bottleneck happens when there is too much demand for a resource and not enough supply to meet demand. If you’re performing a Gemba walk at an assembly line or manufacturing facility, you may see that workers cannot keep up with how much product needs to be produced daily. This could lead to low-quality products or even product defects.

5. Establish a culture of continuous improvement

Managers can use these visits to discover what problems or issues may affect customer satisfaction, productivity and profit margins. This allows managers to make corrections and prevent wasteful activities before significant problems occur.

For example, suppose a manager learns that employees aren’t performing well because they’re having trouble getting access to certain tools they need. In that case, equipment can be ordered to make sure employees have everything they need to meet the required productivity standards.

What comes after a Gemba walk?

Digitize your Gemba walk

With our Gemba Walk App, all of your data is saved and secured in the Cloud, allowing you and your team to obtain precise information in real time.

Our solution can help you:

  • Remove barriers between leadership and workers;
  • Increase productivity and efficiency;
  • Save time and reduce waste;
  • Reduce data collection time;
  • Thoroughly documented issues;
  • Quick assess issues and problem solve.

Get Gemba walking