What is a Gemba Walk?

A Gemba walk is a tool that can have a dramatic impact on a company.

When a company is bogged down by different projects, deadlines, and outcomes it is easy to get lost in theoretics and data reports. However, while essential to an organization they sometimes fail to highlight the real issues at hand and what is going on.

A Gemba walk is a great way to combat this and to change this abstraction to a real-world problem that can be made more effective.

Here is everything you need to know about holding an effective Gemba walk.

What is a Gemba Walk?

What-is-gemba-walk

Gemba also sometimes spelled as ‘Genba’ means “the real place” in Japanese. In a business sense, the word is used to explain “the place where value is created”.

While the word Gemba, or Genba, is ordinarily used in the manufacturing industry, referring to the factory floor, the term can be used to explain any location or place where a service provider interacts directly with their consumer.

Gemba walks are a part of the Lean management methodology. This tool allows you to see actual work that is being undertaken, understand the process followed, and ask questions to learn.

By partaking in such a “walk”, leaders of an organization or department have the opportunity to observe the workplace so that wasteful activities or areas of improvement can be identified.

What is the Purpose of a Gemba Walk?

This lean management tool is a powerful method to promote continuous improvement in your organization.

This walk will help team members to develop the necessary abilities required to improve the company’s operations.

This walk allows you to observe first-hand and properly understand what is happening in the organization rather than just relying on theoretical issues and data reports.

Getting the opportunity to answer questions also enables new idea generation that can aid in important process improvements.

Difference Between a Gemba Walk and Management by Walking Around

Something else to consider and remember is that walks through the Gemba should not be confused with Management by Walking Around.

This is a common assumption that the two are the same. However, this is an incorrect assumption.

To start with the goals of both are very different. While the Gemba has a focused aim to focus on the current state of a process, management by walking around is broader.

Secondly, with the lean management tool you know the specific location you are going to observe, that is the Gemba. You also want to plan the walk in advance, which we will discuss more in detail below. Management by walking around does not include any such planning and has an undefined destination.

Management by walking around does not include the depth that is taken in walks of the Gemba which includes asking in-depth questions to gain understanding and information.

In fact, to highlight the difference between the two, Dr. W. Edwards Deming in his work Out of the Crisis stated, “Management by walking around’ is hardly ever effective. The reason is that someone in management, walking around, has little idea about what to ask, and usually does not pause long enough at any spot to get the right answer.”

How to do a Gemba Walk?

How you choose to conduct such a walk depends on your organization, your team, as well as what you are hoping to achieve.

However, here are some basic steps that you can use as a guideline no matter the specifics of your Genba walk.

Remember, this is just a guideline and there is no hard and fast rule to how you choose to approach such a lean manufacturing tool.

Step 1: Choose a Theme

Choose-a-theme-for-gemba-walk

Before any such walk takes place, it is beneficial to identify the purpose of such a walk by choosing a theme.

You need to highlight what exactly it is you want to observe. By identifying the theme of the walk right from the start you can ensure your team is focused in their efforts of what part of the entire operation to observe.

Choosing a theme also aids with the next steps we will mention including preparing for the walk and coming up with the questions that should be asked.

Ultimately, the theme also improves the method in which you gather the information and makes it easier to identify where improvement is needed.

Step 2: Inform and Prepare the Team

Inform-and-prepare-the-team

Another important thing to do is prepare and inform the team.

Once you have decided on the theme of the walk and know what will be being observed, it is important to prepare and inform those that will be observed of what is going to happen.

Those being observed, or even those that will be engaged during the walk, should be fully aware of what the walk is, as well as how it is aimed at helping and improving work.

You need to make clear that the purpose of such a walk is to remove obstacles and make work more efficient and productive.

If such preparation or information is not done team members may feel hesitant and apprehensive of what is happening. You want your team to feel comfortable with this interaction to be able to gain the best outcomes.

Step 3: Plan the Walk

plan the walk

Following on from choosing a theme for the Gemba, you should have a defined purpose for the walk. Planning this out is important.

It is common for Gembas to be associated with a specific issue concerning a KPI (Key Performance Indicator).

Since such a walk requires in-depth questions to be asked about the process, it is important to plan the walk.

You will want to know which department or section of your company you want to do the walk in.

Planning not only prepares all those involves but also ensures focus and that time is not wasted. A planned walk will be a smooth walk.

Step 4: Don’t Focus on People but Focus on Processes

Focus-on-process

When starting such a walk it is important to remind yourself and anyone else involved that such a walk is aimed at observing, understanding, and improving processes and is not supposed to be any form of employee evaluation.

Again, this is why you want to make sure that those being observed or that will be engaged in the walk understand the purpose behind the walk properly.

If employees feel assured that you are looking for answers to your questions that are honest and clear rather than being an observation on them your walk will be more fruitful in the long run.

Moreover, with questions being asked during the walk you want to ensure that employees know you are asking them to get more insight into the processes and not as an accusation or confrontation on their work.

Step 5: Follow the Value Stream

follow-the-value-stream

During such a walk, if you follow the value chain you are bound to be led to the best opportunities to detect those areas with the most potential for waste activities.

It is common for the biggest opportunities for improved productivity and efficiency to be found where handoffs between people, departments, or processes take place.

Try to involve your team members and employees in this step.

It is a good idea to allow employees and team members to suggest any processes, work areas, or such shifts that may benefit from such a walk.

By involving other members of your workforce, you not only give yourself the option to focus on places where improvement is needed that you may have missed but it also gives your employees and team feel more connected to the company and thus gets the most out of the walk.

This involvement further reiterates the purpose of such a walk of the Gemba as a means of improving processes and not employee evaluation or criticism.

Step 6: Questions

As we mentioned above, it is important to ask questions during the walk. At no point should you assume why a certain task or process is being conducted as it is.

Moreover, don’t assume that things are being done according to the standard, this may not be true and can be detrimental if you do not pick up on it.

Many individuals find that following the 5Ws is a great way to structure questions for your walk.

Step 7: Document Observations Made During the Walk

document-observation

Gembas may seem simple but a lot is going on. Most if not all of it will help you shortly to improve your work and processes. Therefore, it is important to remember it all.

Remembering it all by heart can be risky, as you might miss out on crucial information that you gathered.

It is a good idea to carry or implement tools in your walk to help you log the observations and information gathered.

Carry a way to log your observations in the form of a notepad or such. You could also use a project management tool, which is available on your tablet or phone. This way distributing the information will be easier and you safeguard the information to write.

Step 8: Follow-up with Employees

Following on from including your employees and team members in the process of the walk, you should also include them once the walk is over and share findings and observations of the walk.

Whether the results of the walk are immediately evident due to changes that are implemented or even if such immediate action is not taken it is important to give this feedback to employees.

You can use software to help communicate this information to the team as well as aid in the follow-up that occurs after the walk.

With project management tool you can assign improvement projects or tasks to individuals through the task management features while also being able to track the progress of the tasks and project through Gantt charts and task status.

Step 9: The Next Gemba

If you are implementing changes after the walk you should go back to the location or Gemba that was observed. This way you will be able to determine whether those changes are having the desired result.

Moreover, it is a great idea to incorporate semi-regular walks of this nature to ensure you keep improving and cutting out wasteful activities so that your organization can work at its most effective and productive.

While you want to make such walks a regular occurrence try not to hold such observation sessions at the same time each month. By changing up your schedule of these walks you will get a full picture of your processes and will get a complete sense of what happens in the process.


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Frank Miller
Frank is a senior editor and productivity enthusiast. Loves hunting and reviewing new tools. When he's not writing he's normally cooking, gardening or reading.

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