In short, a gemba walk is an expedition to examine a workplace with the overall goal of locating and eliminating inefficiencies. “You can’t solve a problem until you’ve seen the problem,” is the logic behind the gemba walk concept, and while these treks are usually the realm of management, anyone wishing for a more holistic understanding of a business and the processes therein can benefit from the occasional gemba walk.
Gemba walks are not to be confused with Management By Wandering Around (MBWA), a similar yet less effective concept. MBWA usually occurs at random, and is not backed by a specific plan or schedule. Gemba walks, meanwhile, are carefully planned ahead of time and should recur regularly. Frequent gemba walks both offer a first-hand view of how a facility functions, they also allow management to develop relationships with workers they would otherwise rarely meet.
Why Use Gemba Walks?
Gemba walks are crucial for granting useful perspective to management, people who make important decisions but are often removed from where the actual value of a business is generated. By performing gemba walks regularly, managers can acquire a greater understanding of how their business actually functions while bolstering relations with workers. Gemba walks should not be seen as a chance for managers to come down on employees or a tool to “keep employees on their toes,” as these aims run counter to the core goal of learning from employee wisdom.
Benefits Of Gemba Walks:
- Help decision makers understand daily work
- Provide opportunities for dialogue
- Foster a culture of continuous improvement
- Show workers management cares about them and their work
- Break down barriers in the workplace
- Reveal opportunities for process improvements
- Help identify and eliminate the three wastes: muda, mura, and muri
During The Gemba Walk
Throughout the gemba walk, those walking should pay special attention to ongoing processes, their purpose, and the people who help to facilitate the work being done. Assumptions of how things work should be avoided, as having an open mind is key to learning. Likewise, snap judgements should be avoided until all information is gathered and properly contextualized.
Things To Do While on the Walk:
- Engage with workers, ask question as necessary.
- Observe before interjecting.
- Look for muda, mura, and muri.
- Identify value-added activities and activities that may not be value-added but are nonetheless crucial.
- Takes notes, photos, or videos.
Questions for Walkers to Consider:
- Are protocols being followed?
- Are processes running smoothly? Consistently?
- Does equipment run well?
- Are there any defects?
- Does the layout of workstations/equipment make sense?
- Do workers need additional training?
- Are jobs performed safely?
- What’s working well?
- Is there excessive inventory?
- Do materials pile up at certain places in the process?
- Do people spend time waiting?
- Which activities add value?
- Which activities don’t add value?
- Is documentation available for workers to consult?
- Is it clear what standard work is?
- Are employees’ skills being utilized?
- Is communication a problem at any point in the process?
Questions to Ask Workers:
- How is this task performed?
- Do your tools work well?
- How are your tools maintained?
- What problems do you regularly encounter?
- How would you change the way this task is performed?
- Do you have the resources you need to do your job?
There’s no officially prescribed length of time for a gemba walk. They may be brief, 15-minute affairs, or they may take several hours, depending on the goals of the walk and the processes being examined. A gemba walk should never be rushed, and often a gemba walk will involve more standing around and observing or asking questions than actual walking.
After The Gemba Walk
Following the gemba walk, those involved should reflect on what they’ve learned. This is a prime opportunity to create a list of observations and brainstorm ideas on how to improve points of failure or streamline processes that aren’t quite as efficient as they might be. Likewise, observed problems should be studied to determine if there is a common link that, when rectified, would fix numerous problems.
Most crucially, another gemba walk should be scheduled. A single gemba walk will not fix all of your problems, but committing to regularly, thoughtful gemba walks will create tremendous benefits in the long run. Remember: Gemba walks are not a magic bullet, but are instead a process that offers gradual, holistic improvement and, in turn, gradual benefits.