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The Gemba Walk

by Mike on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 2:16 AM

The Gemba is where the true value-adding activities to satisfy or serve the customer are performed. Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “actual place”, the place where truth is found. The ‘Gemba Walk’ is an activity that takes leadership to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities.

There are typically three types of Gemba walks:

1. “Learning-To-See”. These are themed Gemba walks. This type of Gemba walk specifically focused on things that are relevant to the business (quality, safety etc.). These Gemba walks are opportunities to ask questions and learn from each other.

2. Value Stream Gemba Walks. This type of Gemba walk allows you to see and understand the entire value stream. You start at the end of the process and work backwards to the beginning, documenting each step and the amount of time it takes. For example, from the shipping dock back to order entry.

3. Process Confirmation Gemba Walks. These types of Gemba walks are utilized to audit procedures to verify sustainability of your Lean program. They are the glue that helps to insure that standards/standard work stays in place and therefore allows PDCA to keep creating a culture of continuous improvement.

Walking the Gemba comes with a set of rules: Leadership should conduct walks on a regularly scheduled basis, Visits should be unscripted, informal reviews with staff about improvement efforts and opportunities, Review Lean Metrics and Value Streams where appropriate, and take time to observe what is actually happening and ask questions about the work being done. LISTEN!! The currency of leadership is presence. Where leaders spend their time determines what is important to their organization!

Most importantly, Remember what Taiichi Ohno said, 

“When you are out observing on the Gemba, do something to help them. If you do, people will come to expect that you can help them and will look forward to seeing you again on the Gemba.”

Here are a number of “Do’s” when walking the Gemba:

    • Do Visit Everyone! Don’t play favorites.
    • Do Go Separately! Daily stand-up meetings are not enough.
    • Do Engage Your Middle Management! Be careful not to change priorities, requirements or designs during the gemba walk.
    • Do observe, ask questions and LISTEN! Learning to see is harder than you think, be very patient!
    • Do be genuine, have fun and strive to find your employees doing something right! Fun is good!
    • Do share your dreams and vision! The more you share, the more in synch you’ll be with your employee base.
    • Do blend your visit into the regular ongoing activities on the gemba! Timing is everything!

Here are a number of “Don’ts” when walking the Gemba:

    • Don’t Come Preoccupied! Be present in the “now”.
    • Don’t Come Having Already Decided! If we already know the answer, why go to the gemba?
    • Don’t Come To Lecture! Come to see, experience, learn, explore, watch, think, question, seek to understand.
    • Don’t Come To Get It Off The List! Not something to do because you have to – not something to get out of the way.
    • Don’t Come Holding Your Nose! Not like taking out the trash. Never see the gemba as below you, it is where value is created.
    • Don’t Come Like A Wolf! Those to be visited are NOT lunch. If you show your teeth, be prepared to waste your time and those you visit.

If you seek solutions to problems that need to be fixed, go to Gemba. If you want to see the work behind the reports, go to Gemba. If you want to show leadership, go to Gemba. Go to where the work is performed and observe and engage with those who do it.

“The Gemba Walk” is about getting managers and leadership out of their offices and into the workplace. Remember, in management terms, Gemba is the workplace, the place where value is added and the work of the business is done.

“If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.” W. Edwards Deming

While it may be where you work, Gemba is not your desk. We can provide training on each of these types of Gemba walks. Call us we can help!

Blogs Parent Separator Mike's Blog
Operational Excellence

(“The Professional Provoker”) is the Founder and President of Empowered Performance, LLC a worldwide management education and consulting firm. Michael has extensive international experience working with companies of varied sizes and industries helping them implement strategies to attain World-Class levels of performance. Michael has developed expertise in “Enterprise Excellence”, Enterprise Resource Planning and Supply Chain Management (ERP/SCM), Lean (Toyota Production System), Team Building and Problem Solving, Six Sigma and Reengineering Business Processes. He is considered an expert in helping companies develop and implement Strategic Business Units and fast response customer service production units.

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