What is a Gemba Walk?
The Gemba walk is a fundamental part of lean management. It is about seeing the actual work, understanding the processes, and asking questions about them—all for learning and developing. Instead of making decisions over the heads of the employees, they should also be involved.
The term comes from the Japanese word “Gemba” or “Gembutsu”, which means “the real place”. In business, however, the term Gemba refers to the place where value is created. The term is most commonly used in manufacturing, where the Gemba is the factory floor. Beyond that, the Gemba can be any “place,” such as a construction site in a building, the sales floor in retail, and so on. Gemba in business starts at the place of action.
Executives and managers utilize a Gemba Walk when they take a tour of the work area. Employees are interviewed about their tasks and observed as they are performed in order to identify potential productivity improvements. The main objective of a Gemba Walk is to identify problem areas in the business process and to find a solution to improve them. The method can be used to monitor one or more processes as required (e.g. customer service, costs, safety, productivity, workspace efficiency, etc.).
All necessary data is collected with a Gemba-Walk questionnaire, which can also be designed as a checklist. This way nothing is forgotten and all information from conversations with employees and observations is safely documented.
This article deals with the topics:
What Is the Goal of a Gemba Walk?
In lean management, problems in a business process or production line are often easily visible. Accordingly, the best improvements can be achieved by going to the “real place” where the state of the process can be examined with one’s own eyes. That’s why the Gemba walk motto is “Go see, ask why, show respect.” Gemba walk’s goal is to gather as much information as possible about the actual workplace and the tasks that take place there.
During a Gemba walk, executives, managers, and supervisors are expected to observe and understand the process. As part of the Kaizen mindset, it is also designed to increase communication, transparency, and trust between lower levels of employees and leadership. It is also about getting in direct contact with employees and, in this way, find out how to optimize the work. For this reason, a Gemba walk should not be used as an opportunity to point out policies or mistakes to employees – this risks employees becoming closed off to leadership.
The Gemba walk is always useful when management and executives are separated from the actual work place and the work processes that take place there.
The 11 Elements of an Effective Gemba Walk Checklist
What exactly is a Gemba walk and how do I perform it? A Gemba walk is usually performed at regular intervals. It should not be used in any way as an exercise of control or to put the employees under pressure, but it favors the gaining of knowledge. With the following basic steps, you can start immediately with your Gemba Walk:
1. Choose a topic
You need to decide on the areas you want to concentrate on. These could be, for example, safety, efficiency, delivery, speed, etc. Also, it is recommended to think in advance about the questions you are going to ask.
2. Sufficient onboarding of the staff
All the team members need to be aware of what the Gemba walk actually is and which goals are being met. You should emphasize the importance of all the staff being cooperative. After all, you are all interested in the improvement of the organization you work for.
3. Evaluate the workflow
It is important to remember that the focus of the assessment should be on the process. You should not evaluate personal abilities of your employees during Gemba walks.
4. Follow the value chain
This means comparing different activities and how valuable they are. Getting rid of useless and labor-consuming elements will help your company to improve its efficiency.
5. Note down and analyze what you see
Even such a simple procedure as Gemba walk requires consistency. Therefore, it is recommended to record your observations and refrain from immediate judgments. Take your time to process your results so that you can eventually come up with a viable action plan.
6. Ask someone for help
It is worth considering inviting somebody from another department to join you in this task. They can provide a completely new perspective on the matter since they usually are involved in different activities.
7. Share the findings
Always take action after your Gemba walk even when you don’t find anything significant. Never forget to inform the team on what should be changed. Otherwise, they will feel like they’re being watched for no reason.
8. React to KPI gaps and deviations
A Gemba walk is mainly used when deviations in the key performance indicators (short: KPI) occur. In this case you should go as a manager or executive to the place of production.
9. Find causes
Determine possible causes for deficits with the help of observations on site and discussions with employees.
10. Check the effectiveness
Check the effectiveness of the proposed measures on site or in a subsequent control.
11. Standardize work processes
If the corrective measures lead to the desired success, you should record and communicate them to the employees in detail in order to standardize them for the future.
These 3 Questions Belong in Every Gemba Walk Checklist
A Gemba Walk checklist template consists of a series of questions. There are three “magic” main questions that should be found in each template and from which further questions are derived.
1. question: What should happen?
This question concerns the standard process, which is documented, for example, with a work instruction or operating manual:
- What should the process be?
- Where is the process documented?
- What are the rules?
2. question: what really happens?
This question deals with the systematic recording of problems. This can be divided into the following sub-questions to get to the core of the problem:
- What exactly happened?
- Where did the problem occur?
- When did the incident occur?
- Who was involved? Who discovered the problem?
- What effects has the problem had?
- Maybe make a sketch or take a photo to illustrate the problem.
3. Question: Explain!
The third question is rather an invitation: the parties involved in the process explain how, from their point of view, the problem or disturbance occurred. This explanation is recorded in writing. It is important to get to the real cause during the conversation.
5 Tips for How to Increase Effectiveness During Gemba Walk
The Gemba walk offers you the unique opportunity to get feedback and meaningful input from employees. Therefore, it is especially important to do it continuously in order to maintain an open and dynamic exchange. The following tips will help you to do your Gemba Walk as optimal as possible:
1. Tip: Focus
During the Gemba walk you should focus on a specific aspect such as productivity or cost efficiency so that you can make precise preparations in advance. For example, consulting the right data and asking the right questions.
2. Tip: Notify
Also, the team being observed should know about the project. This way, employees do not get the impression of being put to the test, but rather understand that this is a joint measure for improvement.
3. Tip: No performance test
A Gemba Walk should not be a performance evaluation. It should always be limited to the work processes themselves and, thus, the company’s performance.
4. Tip: Documentation
It is imperative that the on-site deployment is documented to enable evaluation, corrective action, and standardization of processes.
5. Tip: No one-time measures
Ideally, the Gemba Walk should not be done only once. Instead, it should be repeated after newly-gained measures for testing and maintaining have been established. In this way, employees can also exchange information about successful work processes with managers and executives.
4 Benefits of Gemba Walks for Companies
As with all forms of lean management, there are relevant arguments for why Gemba walk is essential to business function and should be carried out regularly. Below, you’ll find the advantages to participating in this time-honored Japanese practice:
- Continuous Optimization
The Gemba Walk aims, above all, at a holistic improvement of the company’s quality. This means a certain amount of effort on the part of the management, but it must be done at the place where it happens, i.e. the place where work processes are carried out. In this way, the best possible decisions are made throughout the company.
- Improved Communication
Respect and cooperation are very important in the Gemba Walk. As an observer, you should take the position of the learner and not the examiner. This way, you get in direct contact with your employees which otherwise would not have been possible in the daily workflow.
- Demonstrate Leadership Skills
Since the Gemba Walk observes the work process from an objective point of view instead of a performance review, you as a manager get the opportunity to get in close proximity to your employee’s everyday experiences, cementing your leadership qualities in the eye of your subordinates.
- Strengthen reputation
Direct communication always leaves a lasting impression. If work processes are optimized from the employees’ point of view, you strengthen the reputation of the company as a whole and in a sustainable way.
Use Digital Technology for Your Gemba Walk Checklist
The documentation during your Gemba walk is the key to sustainable success. With Gemba walk checklists, you can keep the overview during the walk and ask precise questions and record observations.
With Lumiform’s mobile app, you can easily conduct tours with your Gemba Walk checklist, report problems, and quickly assign corrective actions to responsible colleagues. Easy communication with all team members and management allows you to improve internal processes and resolve them quickly. Advanatages Lumiform has to offer:
- Digitize checklists and internal processes: Use Lumiform’s app & software to convert your paper forms into digital checklists in minutes with our flexible form construction kit.
- Generate real-time data via internal processes. This makes quality and security measurable, and you can use the data to continuously optimize processes.
- Get an overview of everything that’s going on on site.
- Reports are created automatically – this saves you time on postprocessing.
- Fill out our free digital Gemba walk checklists which you can customize as you wish simply by using the app.
- View the automatically generated reports, and easily forward them to the responsible persons for evaluation.
- Support your documentation in the Gemba walk app by attaching pictures and notes.
- Increase the efficiency of your internal processes: By communicating more efficiently within the team, third parties, and management you can resolve incidents up to 4x faster than before.
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What to Do After the Gemba Walk?
After the Gemba walk, it’s necessary to set up a meeting where all the observations can be compiled and feedback can be shared. This meeting is sometimes referred to as “Kaizen circle”. Thanks to this circle, team members can share with the leadership team their views on process improvement.
The main goal of Kaizen circle is to make an improvement plan based on the observations from the Gemba walk. This post-walk step is crucial for showing respect to your team and making your company a place where value is created and appreciated. So, it is necessary to identify the non-value and value activities and try to eliminate the former.