Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho gave a brilliantly simple description of what to do on a Gemba walk. "Go see, ask why, show respect," he said. That’s it in a nutshell. During a Gemba walk, supervisors and leaders go to the place where work is done (the Gemba). They observe (not fix) processes and activities and ask questions that will help lead to future improvements.
“Why?” is certainly an important question, but it is by no means the only one. We’ve put together a list of other questions that may be useful, especially if you are new to Gemba walks or if you are taking a look at a process for the first time. They may not all make sense in your situation, but perhaps they will trigger additional ideas.
Where do you find the Standard work documentation?
This question first establishes that there is Standard work documentation and confirms that employees have easy access to it and know where to find it. If not, you’ve found an opportunity for improvement.
How was the Standard work established?
The employees who do the work should be involved in establishing the Standard. When they are, people are more likely to take ownership and work to ensure adherence to the Standard. If they were not involved, you may consider involving them in an improvement cycle to set a new Standard.
How did you learn to complete this task?
Don’t make any assumptions about how people are trained and mentored when they learn new skills and processes. This question opens up the opportunity for dialog about professional development. It also allows you to confirm that Standard work documentation is leveraged during training.
What are the process inputs and how are they produced or procured?
This question might sound like it applies only to manufacturing, but it doesn’t. You’ll want to use terms that are appropriate to your industry and the process under review, but every process has inputs. A nurse doing a blood draw, for example, needs the proper supplies, the patient’s medical record, and the patient herself. All of those are process inputs. To perfect the process, everyone must understand how those elements come to be where they are needed.
Who relies on this process to be completed effectively?
Processes can best be improved when they are understood in the context of the entire value chain. Ultimately, every downstream process, all the way to the customer, is potentially impacted.
How does this process (or task) align with the top objectives of the business?
This question is a good way to evaluate the success of the organization’s communication about strategic planning and True North.
What measures are in place to assess the success of the process?
Measurement and improvement go hand in hand, so it is an important part of process observation. The metrics themselves may be an opportunity for improvement.
What challenges impact quality outputs of the process?
Another way to phrase this question would be, “How can I help remove obstacles or roadblocks to quality results?”
Are there factors that slow the process down?
In many cases, speed is second only to quality. Look for ways to eliminate the waste of waiting.
Do you have ready access to all of the tools and materials necessary for the process?
Workspace optimization and materials flow are things that you can both ask about and observe on your Gemba walk.
What happens if equipment or materials are not available?
There are all sorts of “what if” questions you can ask to get a better feel for the resilience of the process and the ingenuity of employees.
What waste is unavoidable?
Most processes include some degree of unavoidable waste. It is important to understand exactly what it is and think creatively about how to minimize it.
When was the process (Standard work) last changed?
It is important to understand and reinforce that Standard work is not permanent. It should be followed as long as it is in force, but frequently reviewed and improved. If the Standard hasn’t been updated in quite some time, a new PDSA cycle may be in order.
How do you propose improvements to the process?
Not only will this question give you insight into how opportunities for improvement are currently collected, but it will also remind employees that their suggestions are welcome and appreciated.
As I said at the outset, asking "Why?" is baked into the Toyota definition of a Gemba walk. I can’t tell you exactly when to ask why, but you will likely know it when you see it. If the order of operations doesn’t make sense, ask why. If materials or people are moved in ways that don’t seem essential, ask why. Try not to jump to conclusions or mentally fill in the gaps, ask why.
What didn’t I ask about that I should have?
I am personally a huge fan of this question. It opens up the conversation and gives people the chance to pull your gaze in a direction that you may have overlooked.
No blog can give you the definitive list of every question to ask on a Gemba walk, but hopefully, you’ll find a few of these useful or thought