how to perform a good gemba walk

gemba walk

Gemba walk meaning

Gemba in Japanese means "The Real Place".  In other words, where the work takes place. In other words, the place where added value is created.

During a Gemba walk, the manager goes to the shop floor to see first-hand how value is created.  By going on the spot, the manager gets first-hand information. During the gemba walk, mutual trust is built and how the workplace can be improved together.

By holding gemba walks, managers are encouraged to get out from behind their desks and not make their decisions solely on data from reports. After all, the purest form of data comes from direct observation of the process and by talking to the people closest to the process. these are the people doing the work. In other words, they will get data and facts directly from the source. As a result, problems are no longer viewed in the abstract but opinions are formed based on their own findings.

Gemba walks and continuous improvement

During gemba walks, employees are also motivated to look for improvements. This makes the gemba walks an important cornerstone of your continuous improvement process. During the gemba walk, it becomes clear to the employee how important continuous improvement is for the company.

The employees feel heard and see that they are contributing to continuous improvement. As a result, there will also be less resistance in case of changes.

The improvements sought are often simple and cheap to implement.

By starting to look at the process in detail, we also better understand how it works. The better we understand how something works the easier it is to create standard operating procedures.

High-level communication between management and employees helps create an open communication culture. This makes mistakes less likely to be hushed up and good ideas more likely to be reported. Gemba walks ensure good morale.

Gemba walks can also contribute to the safety culture by not only looking at how the process can be improved, but also how safety can be improved. depending on the company, gemba and safety walks are combined or split.

The above can also be summarised as follows. The three basic elements of gemba are:

go and see AND mutual respect AND ask questions

These three elements ensure continuous workplace improvement.

Gemba walk how to

There are a number of elements to consider when setting up gemba walks:

  • Reserve a time slot and stick to it. Schedule gemba walks on a regular basis.
  • Rotate the people doing a gemba walk. Make sure everyone in management gets their turn. Depending on the level, the frequency can be adjusted. It makes sense for the CEO to do a gemba walk less often than the production manager.
  • Determine a theme you will focus on. determine the work area you will visit in advance. Don't just do a random walk.
  • Determine the team doing the gemba walk in advance so they can prepare. preferably, the gemba walk is done with a minimum of 2 people. Keep in mind that too large a group can scare workers away.
  • Always provide an extra pair of eyes from within the process itself. Do the gemba walk with the workers.
  • Focus on the process not the individuals. Keep in mind that process can be prone to human error. Never blame the employees.
  • Follow the value stream, preferably upstream. In other words follow the stream that the product also follows. do not skip steps.
  • Give feedback and follow up on actions noted. Nothing works more demotivating than improvement points that are not resolved.

Gemba walk steps

The gemba walk itself consists of 7 steps:

  1. Observe the process. so that you get an idea of the different steps.
  2. connect with the employees involved in the process. Tell why you have come to do a gemba walk. show interest in who they are and what they do.
  3. ask open-ended questions. These are questions that cannot be answered with yes or no. Start your question with What, Who, When, Why, Where, and How.
  4. Actively look for waste (7+1 waste), See where value is created and where it is not.
  5. Compliment employees. Focus not only on what can be improved, but also on what is going well. Also let them know this by giving compliments.
  6. Actively ask for improvements. Improvements should not only come from management. The employees are closest to the process. They are involved in this every day, so it is only natural that they also know best what can be improved.
  7. Record your observations and give feedback

Gemba walk questionnaire

The questions below can be used during a gemba walk. Do not think of them as a checklist as this quickly comes across as an audit.  The questions are meant to help employees better understand the process and identify opportunities for improvement.

  • What kind of work are you currently doing?
  • How do you know what you need to do?
  • How do you know you are doing a good job?
  • What problems do you experience in performing the (defined) process?
  • What improvements do you see?
  • Who do you speak to when you see an improvement opportunity?