Gemba Walk: Meaning, Process, and Examples

Learn about the meaning of Gemba Walk, how to do effective Gemba Walks, and examples of how the process can promote continuous improvement.

Published 22 Jul 2021

What is a Gemba Walk?

A Gemba Walk is a workplace walkthrough which aims to observe employees, ask about their tasks, and identify productivity gains. Gemba Walk is derived from the Japanese word “Gemba” or “Gembutsu” which means “the real place”, so it is often literally defined as the act of seeing where the actual work happens. A gemba walk is a simple yet powerful lean method done by employers to promote continuous improvement.

gemba walk

This article features:

What is a Safety Gemba Walk?

A safety Gemba Walk, or Gemba safety walk, is simply a safety walk integrated with the Gemba method. Safety Gemba Walks emphasize on the continuous improvement of safety by watching the actions required to complete daily tasks and determine ways to make work safer. While a typical site safety walk through aims to maintain compliance with safety standards, a safety Gemba Walk focuses on looking for opportunities to continuously improve workplace safety.

What is a Virtual Gemba Walk?

A virtual Gemba Walk, also called a remote Gemba Walk, is performed remotely using communications media such as video conferencing tools. Virtual Gemba Walks gained worldwide popularity when a large number of employees began working from home to mitigate the health risks of being in close proximity with fellow employees in traditional work settings (usually in the office) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virtual Gemba Walks are usually conducted via one-on-one video calls, online focus group discussions, and shadowing exercises, where a worker shares his/her screen while working and his/her manager quietly observes then asks questions when deemed fit. This makes Gemba Walks possible in this scenario without the need for the observer and employee to be physically present and at close proximity in one place.

Why are Gemba Walks Important?

Whether on-site or remote and with or without a safety scope, Gemba Walks are important because they enable managers and leaders to see what processes are like on an operational level. Gemba Walks help eliminate incorrect assumptions about the workforce and drive changes with a lasting positive impact. Developed in Toyota, Gemba Walks can empower organizations to sustain continuous improvement efforts and help solve disconnects between leadership vision and implementation of processes in operations.

gemba walk checklist template

Benefits of Gemba Walk

Performing a Gemba Walk is the best opportunity to take note of good ideas, feedback, complaints, and issues in the workplace. Apart from going where the actual work happens and proactively engaging with employees, listed below are the top benefits of implementing and learning from Gemba Walks periodically:

  • Demonstrate management commitment toward professional development
  • Boost employee morale as you care about them and value their work
  • Introduce changes that can be more easily embraced by workers
  • Cultivate a culture of openness, collaboration, and teamwork
  • Streamline operations across different levels in organizations, saving time and money

How to Do a Gemba Walk

While processes are unique for each company, any organization that wishes to conduct a Gemba Walk can be guided by the following steps:

  1. Give the team or employee to be observed the courtesy of a heads-up
    It’s ideal that the team or employees who will be observed are informed ahead of time about the Gemba Walk that will be performed and the reason why something like this is going to be conducted—which is to make the work more efficient and maximize their impact and output. This will help put the employees at ease and be more natural in doing their usual routine and provide the observer a more authentic insight into what is really happening at work on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Prepare the questions to get the information you need
    Gemba Walk is about observing processes and employees and asking the right questions that could lead to a better understanding of operations. With improvement as the ultimate goal in mind, the observer can prepare questions before the Gemba Walk as well as apply techniques such as the 5 Why’s to get relevant information during Gemba Walks.
  3. Observe only; don’t interfere
    The aim is to observe and gather information, not to change anything on the spot or call out deviations during the actual Gemba Walk. The last thing we want to happen is to give an impression that employees are being criticized during a Gemba Walk. This will help establish trust and avoid discomfort among employees being observed as it will reinforce the idea that the Gemba Walk is indeed for observation with the goal to improve processes.
  4. Record observations
    It cannot be stressed enough how recordkeeping is important to Gemba Walks as any improvement that will be made relies on what is recorded during observation.

Gemba Walk Process

Undoubtedly, Gemba Walk is one of the most important principles of Kaizen, or the Japanese philosophy and methodology of continuous improvement. A key step in the Gemba Walk process is making sure to regularly follow up on the information gathered to keep things on track. Here is how to carry out a Gemba Walk, along with some helpful tips and recommendations for an effective process:

  1. Prioritize areas with KPI gaps

    Through Gemba Walks, opportunities for improvement are easier to recognize. Prioritize and highlight areas that might need attention. Gather data through improvement charts as a basis. In addition, determine where your target areas or what your target processes will be.

  2. Use digital checklists

    Digital checklists are effective tools to perform efficient data-gathering procedures. The main reason for doing Gemba Walks is to observe and record input. Gemba Walk Checklists can also serve as guides to ensure that all points are being observed, asked, and recorded. You can also use checklists in other cases like performing safety inspections, 5S audits, and a lot more.

  3. Schedule your Gemba Walk

    Never conduct Gemba Walks on the spot. Employees may feel uncomfortable and think that they have done something wrong. Schedule your Gemba Walks and inform the involved workers about it. It is ideal to perform a Gemba Walk once a week in each department for about 45 minutes.

  4. Ask significant questions

    Asking the most relevant and significant questions during the Gemba Walk leads to an interactive session with employees and helps build a positive relationship between managers and employees. You get to know where the gaps are by asking the right questions. Check the status of priorities and action plans and if they’re efficient to pass certain KPIs and improvement plans.

  5. Take notes and pictures

    Write down your findings and visualize them by taking photos of what you saw and observed. By writing observations and taking photos, you are more likely to be engaged and focused on discussion and reflection. Most importantly, it will help you recognize patterns which may call for a reworking of action items later.

  6. Be a learner and show respect

    Managers and leaders must manifest the proper attitude when conducting Gemba Walks. Remember that this is about the process and not about the worker. Avoid giving suggestions or sharing your personal views but rather be attentive and learn new things from the insights of the worker. Provide positive feedback on work done well.

  7. Gather the team to discuss the learning points

    After the Gemba Walk is done, follow up and share what you learned from the activity, including the issues, struggles, and gaps which need immediate action and resolution. This is the phase to substantiate plans for process improvement. Decide which processes should remain and which ones to revamp.

iauditor as gemba walk software

How Long Should a Gemba Walk Take?

While there has yet to be a consensus among business management experts, a reasonable range for how long a Gemba Walk normally takes could be around 15 to 45 minutes per unit or department. A Gemba Walk of this duration can be adequate for asking questions with follow ups, documenting employee insights, and detecting potential improvements.

With the help of a free digital template that can be easily customized and used on any mobile device, you can facilitate more efficient Gemba Walks in your organization.

How Often Should You Do a Gemba Walk?

The frequency of a Gemba Walk varies depending on company goals, team size, facilitators, and outcomes. For example, if one of your goals as a business is to consistently meet quality objectives, then you might consider performing Gemba Walks more often than industry standards such as quarterly, monthly, or weekly.

In the same way, large organizations might find themselves carrying out Gemba Walks more frequently than small to medium enterprises because there is a greater number of areas to improve. It is also based on who is performing a Gemba Walk like a branch manager can go to Gemba more often than a director of operations.

Finally, one of the biggest factors in determining the frequency of Gemba Walks is probably the outcomes. Analyzing the results after applying specific improvements can help the organization adjust how often they should be doing a Gemba Walk in order to achieve optimum operational efficiency.

Gemba Walk Questions

Asking significant questions is one of the most crucial steps in the Gemba Walk process. To ensure an effective Gemba Walk, facilitators should prepare by formulating well-designed questions in a checklist and asking them in a solution-oriented manner instead of trying to look for someone to blame. Consider the following Gemba Walk questions:

  • What are you responsible for?
  • How does this task align with company goals?
  • What is the standard for this task?
  • How did you learn to complete this task?
  • Why do you do this specific task like that?
  • If you had it your way, how would you do this task?
  • What happens if equipment, tools, or materials are unavailable?
  • Why do you think this task has to be completed effectively?
  • How can I help remove blockers to high-quality output?
  • What other questions do you think I should have asked?

gemba walk interview checklist

The Effective Way to do a Gemba Walk

One of the most frequently asked questions about Gemba Walks is if the process improvement method is truly effective. Below is a comparison of what an effective Gemba Walk looks like versus a poorly implemented, and therefore ineffective, Gemba Walk:

Effective Gemba Walk
Ineffective Gemba Walk
Conduct the observation of employees in the actual workplace Making assumptions or gathering information while in a conference or meeting room
Make observations and take note of the processes being performed Judging the work of employees and thinking what should be corrected on everything that is wrong
Get insights from workers and learn from it Finding fault instead of observing processes
Ask what approaches and methods work well and which need improvement Providing personal opinion and showing biases

What Does Gemba Walk Result In?

Gemba Walk aims not simply to be a data-gathering process, but more importantly, an effective initiative to foster teamwork. Practicing Gemba Walks helps flesh out what is actually happening in the workplace and what processes didn’t work well. Eventually, it can lead to a good working relationship between employers and employees because of learning things together that would be of great value to achieve company goals.

Gemba Walk Examples

Just because organizations want to benefit and maximize results from a Gemba Walk doesn’t mean that they can be achieved by mindlessly going on so-called “Gemba Walks” day in and day out. The management should not go on a Gemba Walk for the sake of doing Gemba Walks.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, one of the world’s leading quality management experts, said that “Management by walking around” is hardly ever effective because someone in management, walking around, has little idea about what questions to ask, and usually does not pause long enough at any spot to get the right answer.

Here are some real-life examples of effective Gemba Walks and what results they achieved in organizations:

Gemba Walk Example 1: The Immeasurable “Soft” Value

  • Every day at 9am, the most senior person in a facility, a Vice President, takes the walk along with the National Sales Director, Manufacturing Manager, Production Managers, Shipping Manager, Production Planner, Purchasing Manager, HR Manager, and in-house Lean group.
  • Each stop on the walk is centered around a “production board”, and if any discussion at a board lasts longer than 3 minutes, they will assign someone responsible to coordinate a meeting or initiate a review of the issue.
  • Operators at each location participate, enabling all parts of the organization to be in the loop—where everyone can provide input when issues arise.
  • As a result, direct lines of communication have immensely increased as the staff received first-hand communication on a daily basis from the senior management about what was going on in the organization.
  • Moreover, the staff knew that senior management were interested in them and their work. They witnessed their leaders identify problems and take steps to resolve them. (source)

Gemba Walk Example 2: A Widespread Office Phenomenon

  • The goal of the Gemba Walk was to shrink the lead time needed to convert a quote into a confirmed order. 
  • The walk began with observation of the customer service department—the location of the order entry process.
  • The team observed how seventy percent of the time, customer service representatives were interrupted as they were converting a quote into an order and inputting it into the sales system. They also noticed that it took them two to four times as long to complete the order entry when they were interrupted.
  • Patterns in the process emerged, but by getting everyone together, a standard work plan, along with a plan for cross-training, was developed.
  • After this walk, the team unlocked a 75 percent lead-time reduction in the span of a month and maintained it for the next year. (source)

Gemba Walk in Your Workplace

Carefully-planned, well-executed, and followed-through Gemba Walks can continuously optimize business processes and improve the quality of work. With the help of a Gemba Walk Software such as iAuditor, you can efficiently drive continuous improvement everywhere, every day. Get started today with iAuditor by SafetyCulture, an easy-to-use operational excellence platform. Claim your 30-day premium trial for free!

SafetyCulture Content Specialist

Shine Colcol

Shine Colcol is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2019, mostly covering topics about health and safety, environmental, and operations management. She is passionate in empowering teams to build a culture of continuous improvement through well-researched and engaging content. Her experience in cross-industry digital publishing help enrich the quality of information in her articles.

Shine Colcol is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2019, mostly covering topics about health and safety, environmental, and operations management. She is passionate in empowering teams to build a culture of continuous improvement through well-researched and engaging content. Her experience in cross-industry digital publishing help enrich the quality of information in her articles.