Who invented the gemba walk?

Since its inception on the factory floor in the 1940s, the Gemba Walk has proven to be a useful tool to increase the productivity and efficiency of processes in lean manufacturing. Similar to the concept of management by walking around (MBWA), Gemba walks consist of walking around the workplace to look for potential hazards, issues, and opportunities for improvement.

Gemba walks are all about gaining practical knowledge. The key to their effectiveness is that they allow you and your team to gain empirical knowledge of the processes and issues going in and around your place of work, therefore giving way to new points of view on how to tackle problem solving, improve productivity, and ensure a safe work environment.

Where did Gemba come from?

The history of Gemba begins with the Toyota corporation and a Japanese industrial engineer called Taiichi Ohno. As an executive at Toyota, he developed a system of philosophies and practices to better run the production line, which has served as inspiration for modern lean manufacturing practices.

Taiichi Ohno baptized his system as The Toyota Way, which would later be known as the Toyota Production System (TPS). His philosophy consisted of two main pillars: The search for continuous improvement and respect for people. Mr. Ohno asserts that to be successful one must have a vision that inspires continuous innovation and must appreciate the value every individual provides to the company.

Some of Taiichi Ohno’s ideas have been translated to English into phrases like “Just-in-Time for today and tomorrow”, which happens to be the name of the book he wrote alongside fellow entrepreneur Setsuo Mito.

What does Gemba stand for?

Gemba in lean manufacturing consists in allowing your employees to understand the processes behind the work they do. Once they are better familiarized with the workplace and the production line, they will be better prepared to recognize flaws in the production process, increasing productivity and efficiency.

The word Gemba itself is a Japanese term to describe “the place where it happens”, it being something that should catch your attention. To give a couple of examples of daily usage, Japanese T.V. reporters will address their audience as “reporting from the Gemba”, while detectives will use Gemba to refer to a crime scene.

A rough translation of the word Gemba to English would be “the real place”. This word was chosen to express that the factory floor is where the real value of a company is produced. The place where the magic happens. The idea behind using the word Gemba was to stress how important it is in the search for continuous improvement.

Understanding lean six sigma

Why do companies implement Gemba walks?

There are many reasons to do a Gemba Walk. Different companies use them for different reasons and expect various results out of them. Some examples of reasons a company might decide to implement Gemba walks into their workplace routine include:

  • Innovation and problem solving: The conveyor belts could probably be placed more productively, and a good way to sort this out is by performing a Gemba walk and looking out for potential bottlenecks created by faulty conveyor belt position during the production process.
  • Reducing waste and increasing efficiency: Perhaps the waste produced as a byproduct of the manufacturing process could be disposed of in a more productive manner. Reduction of waste was one of Taiichi Ohno’s main concerns when envisioning The Toyota Way.
  • Looking out for potential hazards on the factory floor: Various pieces of equipment could have been placed in patterns that impede proper employee and material transit.

6 steps to a successful Gemba Walk

1. Getting ready for your Gemba Walk

The first of your Gemba walk steps should be to get everything set up for the Gemba Walk itself. It will be important to take notes of anything that catches your attention. Those interested in adding Gemba Walks to their work routine will be happy to hear that the Gemba Walk app simplifies the hassle of taking notes and documenting insights.

Your Gemba walk will not be successful if you don’t remember particular details you notice as you walk the floor. A picture is worth a thousand words, and one should consider taking pictures of things that would take too long to describe in text. Another advantage of the Gemba Walk app is that it lets you attach pictures, videos and notes to document issues.

2. Notify the team of the Gemba walk process

Next up on the list is to be sure everyone knows a Gemba Walk is going to happen in the workplace. It may be tempting to schedule a surprise Gemba Walk to try and surprise employees, but this can lead to a loss in worker morale and can affect review results.

The Gemba Walk app allows you to easily schedule your Gemba walks by connecting to your time and task management tools. If you and your team use it in tandem, you will be able to coordinate your thoughts and solutions better.

3. Think of why do you walk the floor

Gemba walks are not about walking around the factory floor aimlessly. Always keep a goal in mind during your Gemba walks. For example, you could try to look for ways to reduce the unnecessary waste produced during packaging. This doesn’t mean that if you see a potential safety concern during your waste improvement Gemba Walk you should ignore it, on the contrary, you should start taking notes as well.

Continuous Improvement is one of the main pillars of Taiichi Ohno’s philosophy, and therefore one shouldn’t waste the opportunity to go beyond the goals of the scheduled Gemba Walk. The Gemba Walk app permits the creation of a different checklist or document to keep any newfound avenues of progress or potential concerns in mind.

4. Problem solving and not micromanaging

You’re not evaluating employee performance during a Gemba walk. Your attention must be on increasing the productivity of the production line. The solution cannot lie on the performance of any particular worker, since the production process must remain efficient no matter who performs the physical labor.

Never miss out on the potential an out-of-place event can have while brainstorming solutions. Perhaps an employee has begun using a piece of machinery as a table of some sort. Any safety concerns aside, this could be an indication that small tables and trays could be useful to have around on the factory floor.

5. Receive employee input

While you may perform a Gemba Walk to get better acquainted with an area of the workplace, there are workers who perform their tasks in that area every day. It is important to keep close communication with your employees since they will be able to offer different perspectives on issues you may have not noticed during your Gemba walk.

A Gemba Walk can be performed by yourself, but having other employees with you will allow them to express their own concerns and points of view. Taiichi Ohno highlighted how important it is to trust what every person in your company brings to the table.

6. Time for improvement

Last on the list on how to do a Gemba Walk is to take notes of all the information you have gathered. Writing down your findings on the factory floor and taking pictures are two useful ways to record information. By using the Gemba Walk app you will be able to quickly create custom checklists, log in issues via text and pictures and create a personalized database to inspire improvement.

Depending on the issue at hand, one might decide to perform weekly Gemba walks to review results of any changes previously implemented. Other managers might prefer to include the Gemba Walk as a regular part of their working schedule.

How often should a Gemba walk take place?

Want to foster a culture of continuous improvement in your business?

Don’t miss out on the proven success of Gemba, be it in lean manufacturing or any other business where growth and innovation are paramount. Improve efficiency and productivity by creating Gemba walk checklists and logging in your insights and ideas in text and picture forms.

The Gemba Walk app easily connects to your favorite time and task management tools through API access. You will save time otherwise taken away by collecting data and documenting issues. Plus, it will become an indispensable tool to improve the clarity of the processes in the workplace

Get the Gemba Walk app