Maybe it is because it is a brand-new year, or perhaps it is the cold weather, but lately, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about the Lean management technique of Gemba walks. We compiled them for this post that we hope will be helpful for people who are new to the approach and even seasoned pros who want to get more from each visit to the workplace.
What is a Gemba Walk?
Gemba walks are an improvement technique used in the Lean business methodology and by others who are interested in continuous improvement. During a Gemba walk a supervisor, manager, or other leader goes to the place where work is done to get deeper insight into how processes are performing and to spot potential opportunities improvement. The technique is often described as:
- Go see
- Ask why
- Show respect
Where does the name come from?
Like many commonly used improvement tools, the name is Japanese. The translation is, roughly, “the real place.” That’s fitting because although leaders may accomplish a lot in their office, the place where value is added for the customer is the workspace. It may be the factory floor, an operating room, a construction site, a call center, or an office space.
What is the goal of a Gemba walk?
The purpose of a Gemba walk is to learn more about how processes are performed and to notice any potential opportunities for improvement. Direct observation, in combination with control charts and other statistical analysis, can help leaders identify problems and recognize the potential for better results.
How do employees feel about Gemba walks?
This is a great question and one we get asked a lot. The answer depends on whether the Gemba walk is properly executed. When employees are given information about the purpose of Gemba walks and assured that their involvement is welcome and necessary for success, they typically embrace the approach as a way to help them do their jobs even better. On the other hand, if Gemba walks are seen as punitive or if they are not explained, employees can feel nervous and clam up.
Are Gemba walks an employee performance technique?
No. Leaders should be focused on processes, workspace organization, and access to resources during a Gemba walk. Employees should be free to provide information and answer questions, not concerned that their own performance is being evaluated.
Are improvements implemented during the Gemba walk?
No. Supervisors should note any potential opportunities for improvement during the walk but wait to make changes until after a period of evaluation and reflection. Ideally, those doing the work will be involved in crafting the plan for improvement using a structured process like DMAIC or PDSA.
How does one prepare for a Gemba walk?
Before the walk, the process or workspace to be examined should be identified. It may be helpful to review the current Standard Work to note any differences between the Standard and how work is being done. (Note: don’t assume that the Standard is being executed as written.)
Is there a role for software?
Absolutely. Visiting the Gemba is only the first step. After the walk, each opportunity for improvement should be documented in a tool designed to manage the improvement process. Software with workflow capabilities helps ensure that everyone is notified of the improvement project and that progress is quickly made. It also gives leaders visibility into each ongoing project and insight into the impact of improvements made based on Gemba walks across the board.
What questions should I ask on a Gemba walk?
Of course, the specific questions will depend on your business and the process you are observing, but generally, questions include some variation on:
- Who is involved?
- What materials are used?
- What do you do?
- How do you know what to do?
- When does the task take place?
- What depends on the outcome?
Is a Gemba walk the same as Management by Walking Around?
No. While the two approaches involve going to the workplace, that’s about all they have in common. A Gemba walk is performed with the intent to observe a specific process or space, while the Walking Around approach is intentionally undefined. Gemba walkers drill deep into specific details and take post-walk actions. MBWA, on the other hand, has little structure and often does not result in improvement.
We hope you’ve found this Q&A helpful. Gemba walks are an excellent way to accelerate improvement efforts and increase employee engagement. If you have a question that we’ve left out, please let us know in the comments.