Like many terms used by companies looking to achieve continuous improvement, "gemba walk" originated in Japan. The original Japanese name comes from gembutsu, which means “real thing” or “real place.” In the case of continuous improvement, this is the place where work actually gets done. It might be a factory floor, an emergency room, or an office full of cubicles. We’re often asked for more information about gemba walks and how they are used to foster improvement. Here are the answers to a few of them.
What is a gemba walk?
Gemba walks are a practice by which managers physically go to the place where work is done to observe value creation in action. The critical word is “observe.” During a gemba walk, managers ask questions and take notes, but don't take any immediate actions.
What is the purpose of gemba walks?
The purpose of a gemba walk is to gather intelligence. By seeing processes as they are implemented and followed currently, managers can identify potential opportunities for improvement. If continuous improvement software is utilized to support the process, opportunities for improvement should be entered directly into the platform during the walk using an app, if possible, so that they are not forgotten. Improvements are not implemented during the gemba walk, but rather only after a period of reflection and review.
Are gemba walks used to evaluate employee performance?
No. Gemba walks are designed to assess processes, the arrangement of work spaces and standard work. They should be done in the spirit of Kaizen and never be seen as punitive. Although the primary goal is observation, they should be interactive and give supervisors the opportunity to ask questions about why and how work is preformed the way it is. It's important to reassure employees that the purpose of the walk is to critique the process, not the people.
When should a gemba walk take place?
Gemba walks should be regularly scheduled even for areas of the business that seem to be running smoothly. They should occur more frequently if there are known problems. It is important to vary the time of day and day of week that gemba walks occur to get a full sense of the current state.
What happens after a gemba walk?
Keep in mind that gemba walks are about issue discovery. Once they are complete and opportunities for improvement are identified, mangers can then begin the process of uncovering root causes and entering into a PDSA cycle (Plan-Do-Study-Adjust). If an organization is using continuous improvement software without mobile deto support the process, the post gemba walk period is when opportunities for improvement are entered into the solution and prepared for action.
Gemba walks are a valuable tool in the continuous improvement tool box. First hand observation unlocks opportunities for positive change and to demonstrate leadership’s commitment to quality, safety, efficiency, customer value and employee satisfaction.
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