Five steps to an effective Gemba Walk

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A congratulatory slap on the back, a celebratory high-five, a confidence inspiring pep talk, and that’s the Gemba walk completed for another day. But this is not a Gemba walk. There’s a marked difference between the management of walking around, and a carefully-structured, Lean Gemba walk. Take the late American engineer, Dr W. Edwards Deming, " 'Management by walking around’ is hardly ever effective,” he once said. “The reason is that 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.” Deming believed that Management by Walking Around was not only extremely ineffective but could be extremely damaging for team morale. That's because a manager's goal is not about finding solutions to specific issues by walking around and highlighting negatives. Instead, a Gemba walk is all about observing, engaging and improving. Gemba Walk So how do you conduct an effective Gemba walk? Here are five tips to ensure that every step you take counts.

Always consider the four ‘W’s’ before setting off on any Gemba Walk. [i]


In Lean manufacturing, the Gemba is the most important location for any team. Quite simply – it’s the place that matters most - a place where time, productivity and space are crucial and not to be wasted. In cricket, rugby and football, Gemba is wherever the ball is. For manufacturers it’s the factory floor, for sales people it’s the sales floor, for scientists it’s the research lab. But for those of you who don’t work in Sales or R&D related fields, the Gemba is your website. In terms of locating your Gemba, or the physical place, you need to locate the pulse of your business and that is where you’ll find Gemba. And as a senior manager, Gemba is where you need to be, at least some of the time.

Who and When?

A Gemba walk is only truly effective if the entire managerial structure of your organisation buys into Lean thinking techniques. So who should conduct a Gemba walk, and how often should they do it? If we take the example of a factory, at the top of the managerial pyramid is the VP of Operations. He or she should probably walk the factory floor once a quarter. The next most senior employee, the plant manager, should walk the Gemba once a month, while the Director of Manufacturing should do so once a week. Finally, at the bottom of the pyramid, the Team Leader, usually go to the Gemba each day.


But what should you look for and what is your starting point? When walking the Gemba, you should notice key issues such as ‘pull’ and ‘flow’. Pull is the concept of matching the rate of production to the level of demand, which is the goal in any work environment. Therefore, if for example, an automotive factory produces more cars than are actually needed, or conversely demand for cars outstrips the number of cars being built, then the ‘pull value’ needs to be re-accessed. Monitoring and constantly evaluating ‘Flow value’ is also vitally important when you’re immersing yourself in the Gemba. When we talk about ‘Flow’, we are really talking about the shortening the lead time from the beginning to the end of the value stream. If we take the example of automotive assembly line, a Gemba walk is an excellent way of observing the value stream process first-hand, and remove bottle necks and waste from the car making process. A Gemba walk can be an effective tool in driving processes faster, easier, cheaper and better. This, of course, assumes that everyone is familiar with Lean Manufacturing techniques. If it is a new concept in your business, then the frequency of walks should increase.

How do I go to the Gemba?

Now we have touched on the ‘Who,’ the ‘What,’ ‘When’ and the ‘Where,’ we can now focus on the ‘how’. So how do you physically go about creating a Gemba Walk Evaluation sheet? Firstly, I should add some provisos. Going to the Gemba is very subjective. A Gemba walk can be used by varying levels of seniority to observe processes all the way up the value stream. It can be tasked to capture a range of different information. However, an evaluation form for a Team Leader, occupying the lowest tier of management in a packaging company, might include the following seven categories: 1) Process Step Number Name step here. 2) Description of Action/Step An example of action taken. For example, it could be staging, waiting, storage, moving, delivering or retrieving. 3) Primary Responsibility Role Who is responsible for completing this task or activity? 4) Process Added Time This refers to the average time it takes the worker to complete the action, from when the task was first received to when it is finished. 5) Value Added Time (To be conducted after the Process walk). Total time taken to add value to the item that changes the fit, form and the function of the item. 6) Distance Travelled Total distance travelled. 7) Time in the Queue The total number of items waiting to be processed at this step, or waiting to be transported away from this step.  

Eliminating waste

If you can apply this simple evaluation process, to every process in your business, you can quickly work out where there is Muda (waste) and how you can eliminate these inefficiencies in your value stream.  

Going to the Gemba higher up the value chain

A more senior manager, having reviewed the Team Leader’s Gemba evaluation sheets, might wish to take a high-level Gemba walk, focusing on waste[ii]. Some of the points he or she might consider are as follows: 1) Waiting Can multiple tasks be done at the same time, rather than in a staged sequence? 2) Transportation Can the process be automated so that it removes the need for a person to the net operational stage? 3) Processing itself Can any task be combined, or be eliminated from the value stream? 4) Motion Could new technology be added to the assembly line to add speed to the process? 5) Poor quality At what stages of the manufacturing process could 'mistake-proofing’ help us to eliminate costly errors? 6) Inventory Is Work in Process inventory needed, or can you operate without it? 7) Over-production Can the operation produce to order, or is it only capable of producing to inventory?  

And finally…

It’s very important to recognise that Gemba walks cannot achieve everything in one go. Instead the Power of Gemba lies in focusing on the tackling one particular theme at a time. It is about focusing on the physical heart of your business. When you’re in the Gemba, you need to ask the right questions, listen attentively to your people, and then act decisively to improve the process in the most efficient possible manner. [i] [ii]   Free eBook | 5 Steps, Implementing Lean in your Organisation
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