What is a Gemba walk and what are its benefits?

Gemba is a lean management philosophy, which means go and see. It is used to identify problems and improve processes. Discover its many benefits!

What exactly is a gemba walk (or Gamba Walk)?

Gemba or gemba walk (use a hard “G” for “Gemba Walk” pronunciation) is a Japanese term that means ‘’the real place’’ or ‘’the place where value is created’’. It basically refers to where your team gets most of the work done (where the real work happens). For example, for manufacturers, the ‘’gemba’’ is the factory floor and so on.

Gemba is linked to the Japanese word ‘’genchi genbutsu’’, which means go and see. It’s a fundamental part of the lean management philosophy whose main objective is to identify day-to-day problems and understand, observe and improve processes in order to leverage a culture of continuous improvement.

In Lean and Six Sigma, it means taking the time to talk to the people who do the job and observing how an actual work process is carried out.

The concept was developed by Taiichi Ohno from Toyota, who is also credited, together with Shigeo Shingo and Eiji Toyoda, with the development of the management and production system of Toyota, which is known today as Lean Manufacturing. The famous words “Go see, Ask why, and Show respect” were first enunciated by Fujio Cho, Toyota’s famous chairman at the turn of the millennium.

In recent years, gemba walks have become a popular management technique because they allow companies to gain valuable insights on their operations and supply chain. In fact, the regular practice of gemba walks help organizations identify opportunities for improvement. It is a very effective tool when used correctly and works for large-scale production companies as it was established by Toyota, one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world.

The 3 basic rules of Gemba

The following 3 rules, as stated by Toyota’s former chairman Fujio Cho, are essential if you want your gemba walk to be truly effective:

  • Go see: You have to go see with your own eyes how the operation and different processes (production, etc.) in your company work in order to check if the processes are aligned with the overall objectives of the company and its standards. Go see on the shop floor, not from your office.
  • Ask why: You have to understand each step of the manufacturing process as well as the ins and outs of processes in detail in order to eliminate day-to-day problems. Many tasks are done routinely without the staff wondering if they are right or wrong. Asking why will help you understand how to improve processes.
  • Show respect: You should show employees and workers that you care for their well-being. Make sure to involve your employees and let them know that gemba walks are performed to make their life at work easier.

Gemba walk in different industries

Gemba is a concept that was initially developed for the manufacturing industry. However, it has since been implemented and leveraged in several different industries (customer service, marketing, software engineering, etc.) because it helps reconcile the horizontal and vertical nature of companies.

If businesses want to improve processes, managers should explore processes in all the hierarchical layers of the organization and involve staff at all levels. Gemba Walks should foster greater communication, transparency and trust between the layers of the team and the stakeholders.

You’ve probably heard of the famous TV series “Undercover Boss” but you might not have known that it was linked to the concept of Gemba. In this show, CEOs dress up so that staff members don’t recognize them and they go work with frontline employees and workers. This helps them understand the work that is done and find ideas to improve processes for all stakeholders (customers, employees, etc.).

Steps to establish an effective gemba walk

1. Prepare your team workers

First of all, it’s important for managers and team leaders to receive the proper training in order to get the most value out of Gemba. Then, before your manager walks the floor, it’s important for your employees and workers to understand what the purpose of a gemba walk is. It should be made clear to them that the objective is to observe and improve processes – not evaluate their performance.

You should let them know in advance that they will be asked questions regarding when, how and why things are done in a certain way. It’s important for your staff to understand that you want transparent and detailed answers. Employees and workers should not tell the manager what they want to hear. Rather, they should give them a realistic overview. If there are processes that are not being conducted according to the company’s standards, the manager should be made aware.

Gemba is a collaborative approach that works best when both parties have a full understanding of the concept and its purpose. Your employees and workers should not feel that the questions asked are confrontational. The manager is simply seeking to have a deeper understanding of processes in order to find improvement ideas and get rid of wasteful activities.

2. Strategically plan your gemba walk

Gemba is often confused with Management by Walking Around (MBWA), which consists of walking around and getting involved with what your team members are doing. However, contrary to MBWA, gemba walks should have a clear objective and related KPIs.

During gemba walks, managers should have a proactive attitude and ask in-depth questions about the different activities and processes (Who is in charge? What are the steps involved in this process? How often does this task have to be performed? How long does the process take? What is the margin of error? etc.). The questions will depend on your sector of activity and industry. The 5 Ws (Who, What, When, Where and Why) provide a great basis and valuable insight for the questions you should ask. Employee input should be seriously taken into consideration.

Companies that want to reap the benefits of gemba need to have a clear structure in place and use a web application to organize and analyze data. Gemba-Walk.com is a gemba app that can be used on any device (mobile devices like smartphone, tablet or computer) and which helps companies gather valuable data and statistics in real time. All you have to do is enter your questions and start your gemba walk. Using a technological tool helps your front-line staff identify issues more quickly and gather detailed information!

3. Focus on collaboration and value stream

As mentioned above, the key for successful gemba walks is collaboration. Employees should be invited to share their ideas and suggest areas of improvement for processes. After all, your frontline staff performs the work on a daily basis and has more insight into the company’s processes. Asking for feedback from employees is a great way to engage your staff and identify key opportunities that you may not identify otherwise.

Another important factor to focus on is the value stream. Areas of improvement are often found where there are gray areas or handoffs between departments and processes. Companies that follow the value stream are able to solve issues and identify wasteful activities faster.

4. Structure your data

Managers have to make several observations during a gemba walk. It’s important that companies provide their employees with the tools necessary to gather this information. Gemba-Walk.com is a great way for companies to log observations and automatically structure data. With this app, your staff can easily submit their observations. Leveraging technology helps companies save time, reduce their ecological footprint (no more paper!) and reduce work accidents.

5. Walk the floor in teams

While not all gemba walks should be performed in teams, it doesn’t hurt to bring along managers or employees from different departments in order to get fresh ideas and different points of view. People that are not familiar with certain processes are likely to ask different questions, which could help identify issues and areas of improvement.

6. Change the schedule of the gemba walk

If you want to identify anomalies and issues, it doesn’t make sense to perform the gemba walk at the same time every day, week or month. It’s best to switch it up so that you can grasp the process from beginning to end. To do so, you should schedule gemba walks during different times of the day and different days of the week.

7. Communicate with your employees

Once observations are analyzed and areas of improvement identified, it’s important to communicate with team members before implementing changes so that they are aware of the next steps. Managers can then assign improvement projects to the respective teams and ensure a smooth transition.

8. Measure key KPIs

After you implement improvement projects, you should track performance and measure key KPIs to see if the company was able to achieve the desired results. You should also do regular gemba walks so that your staff can analyze improvements first-hand.

Benefits of gemba walks for companies

Implementing Gemba Walks brings numerous benefits to businesses:

  • It allows for strategic decision-making, which takes into valuable insights and data.
  • It brings teams and their stakeholders closer together by finding solutions to their problems.
  • It fosters collaboration, which improves communication at all levels within the organization.
  • Making an effort to go see your staff on the floor shows them that you care about their well-being and improves employee morale.
  • It helps detect both disruptive and positive innovations.
  • It helps the organization analyze and improve different processes, which equates to saving time or money and streamlining operations.
  • It helps companies identify opportunities.
  • It improves facility safety (22.5% decrease in work accidents with Gemba-Walk.com). You can identify safety concerns before injuries or accidents occur.
  • It allows organizations to standardize processes.
  • When implemented successfully, gemba walks foster a culture of continuous improvement.

How to implement Gemba in your workplace?

If you want to implement regular gemba walks within your workplace, Gemba-Walk.com is your best ally. Our web application helps hundreds of companies strategically plan their gemba walks, gather detailed information, structure data and create reports to analyze KPIs. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or if you want to learn more about our technological solution.

Gemba walks are also great for remote agile teams. Most of them already have most of the tools they need. 

Contact us now for more information on Gemba Walk and how it can help you in your business.