Gemba Walk: The Right Way

Learn how gemba walk should be performed in the workplace to improve continuous improvement

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What is a Gemba Walk?

A gemba walk is often recognized as a simple walkthrough to observe and ask employees about their tasks in order to identify productivity gains. It was derived from the Japanese word “Gemba” or “Gembutsu” which means “the real place.” It is the act of seeing where the actual work happens. Gemba walk is a simple yet powerful method performed by managers and leaders to promote continuous improvement.

A Good vs. Poor Gemba Walk

A Gemba walk is used to see what is really happening and not a time to criticize. Here is a summary of what a good vs poor Gemba Walk implementation looks like:

Good
Poor
Conduct the observation of employees in the actual workplace Not about gathering information while in a conference or meeting room
Take note of the processes being performed Not about how workers are performing
Get insights from workers and learn from it Not intended to find fault in others when observing
Ask what approaches and methods work well and which need improvement Not about providing ideas and personal opinion or biases

How to Effectively Perform a Gemba Walk

Conducting a Gemba Walk is also the best opportunity to take note of good ideas, feedback, complaints, and issues in the workplace. Make sure to regularly follow up on the information gathered to keep things on track. Here are some helpful tips and recommendations to effectively conduct a Gemba Walk:

  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 who will be your target audience or employees.
  2. Use digital checklists
    Digital checklists are effective tools to perform efficient data-gathering procedures. The very 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 doing 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 concerned workers about it. 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. You can 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 or, better yet, be more visual by taking photos of what you see and observe. By writing down your observation and taking photos, you are more likely to be engaged and focused on observation and reflection. Most importantly, it will help you recognize patterns which later may call for a reworking of action items.
  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 require to revamp.

As one of the core principles of kaizen, a Gemba Walk aims not to simply be a data-gathering process, but more importantly, an effective initiative to foster teamwork. Implementing this activity will not only help you record what is actually happening in the workplace or what processes didn’t work well but it also develops a good working relationship between you and workers because they were heard and you get to learn new things that would be of great value to achieve your team’s mission and goal.