When translated from the Japanese term, gemba means ‘the real place.’ In the workplace it can also be referred to as “the place where value is created.” When looking at this term through the lens of Lean or Six Sigma, a Gemba Walk is a practice that allows managers and leaders an opportunity to watch how a process is done on an operational level and engage with those workers who do the job.
Gemba walk originated in Toyota from executive and industrial engineer, Taiichi Ohno. With the three basic rules of gemba being Go See, Ask Why, and Show Respect. It has since become a crucial activity to help identify wasteful tasks and look for improvements on the shop floor level all through observation and attentiveness to the worker performing the task.
Here is the who, what, when, why and how to master your next gemba walk:
Who Goes on Gemba Walks?
Everyone from CEOs and executives to supervisors, managers, safety coordinators and regional leaders should join for the walk when available. Each can offer unique perspectives and opportunities to improve, streamline and strengthen the process being observed.
Colleagues from other departments may also be an excellent invitee to the walk as they may see problems overlooked by those working in that function day-to-day.
You may also benefit from having outsourced partners like vendors on your walk. Vendors may be able to help troubleshoot or offer best practices on how their solution is being used, as well as improve their product to better meet the needs of its users. However, these suggested changes should not be made during the walk; a period of analysis and reflection must still occur before final decisions are made.
What to Ask Frontline Workers During Gemba Walks?
- What are you working on currently? Projects/responsibilities assigned?
- How does this task align with the overall business goals and objectives?
- How did you learn to complete this task?
- What is the standard for this task?
- Is there an established process for completing this task?
- What are the challenges you face?
- How can you overcome these challenges on your own?
- How can leadership help support and help you overcome this obstacle?
- What happens if resources like equipment, tools, etc. are not available?
- What KPIs/metrics are in place to assess the success of this process?
- When was the process last changed?
- Do you propose improvements to the process? And if yes, how so?
- What question didn’t I ask about that I should have?
When Should You Do a Gemba Walk?
There is no one size fits all when it comes to the frequency of completing gemba walks. It greatly depends on the industry, company size, goals and objectives of the business – and more. Here are some best practices when thinking about scheduling your next gemba walk:
- Give the team/department/employees a heads up that you will be observing them, including the purpose of the walk, when and where. This will help put the employees being observed at ease and able to continue their day-to-day tasks normally without concerns or suspicions as to why leadership/management is there.
- Gemba walks should be no more than 45 minutes in length for each department.
- Schedule the walks frequently but at different times like evening or overnight shifts to have a proper and more complete picture of the operation.
Why Are Gemba Walks Important?
Practicing gemba walks consistently in your workplace can result in many benefits to the business and employees. It can help to foster a workplace culture that champions safety, quality, collaboration, teamwork, continuous improvement, strategic problem-solving, innovation and employee morale.
In case that wasn’t enough to get you excited for all the positive outcomes as result of walks, they also help to streamline operations and cut costs related to inefficient processes.
3 Tips on How to Master Your Next Gemba Walk
- Create a theme for your walk. Are you looking to observe and learn more about safety, customer service, productivity, etc.? This will help you develop the questions you ask employees, locate gaps and areas for improvement, gauge progress and take a focused approach.
- Take photos and videos and draw diagrams during your walk. These visuals can prove to be helpful once the walk is completed as you review, evaluate and plan for any next steps.
- Ask open-ended questions to employees. Open-ended questions allow for more discussion with the employee and offer more understanding into the process.