The Gemba Walk – a process improvement exercise

What is Gemba and a Gemba Walk?

If you think Gemba Walk is the latest viral dance craze on social media, well, not exactly. You may want to keep reading this article.

“Gemba” is a term in Lean Six Sigma. Gemba is a Japanese word that means “the actual place.” The “Gemba Walk” is when you walk to the actual place and observe a process. Go to the factory floor, the warehouse, or wherever the process takes place. You get a much better view of the process there than from your desk.

The Gemba Walk is common in manufacturing industries. Leaders and other employees in any company, in any industry, can also benefit from Gemba Walks. 

The Gemba Walk is advantageous – whether you’re trying to understand how something works, improve a process, or write a procedure. Seeing the process for yourself gives you a better perspective. Don’t rely on second-hand information, or what you think you know – get the facts yourself from the source.

Keep in mind that the Gemba Walk isn’t to catch employees doing something wrong. It’s not the time for blame or discipline. Instead, it’s a chance for you to observe and communicate, which leads to process improvement. Let the employees know you’re coming and what you want to accomplish. Honesty and transparency go a long way in gaining their trust. It also allows you a chance to see the actual process with its flaws and inefficiencies.

Why do a Gemba Walk?

Gemba Walks allow you to get employee input, see the process for yourself, and gain a new perspective.

Getting employee input

One advantage to a Gemba Walk is getting the chance to talk with front-line employees in person. It may be the most significant advantage and the one that provides the best Return on Investment. You have the opportunity to ask questions, get and provide feedback, and learn what they think. It’s important to listen because they’re giving you vital information. Connecting with employees makes them feel valued. A valued employee is often more engaged and loyal.

Employees want to do their job, and they want to excel at it. When things go wrong, look at the process – not the person. Most times, the employee does the best of their ability with the process, tools, or resources in place.

Seeing the process for yourself

Another advantage to the Gemba Walk is witnessing a process in person. From here, you observe what happens. You may have a preconceived notion about a process. “Oh, that should be easy. You do this, that, it takes two minutes, and done.” On your Gemba Walk, though, you find the process has multiple steps, needs two operators, and takes five minutes – and that’s when everything goes smooth. It often doesn’t. When productivity is a valuable metric for your team, it pays to know how long the process takes and a realistic expectation of output.

Additionally, there may be more to the process than you thought, or the process may not be adding as much value as you would like. Both of these scenarios can cut into profits. Seeing it for yourself gives you the best viewpoint. 

Don’t forget that processes interconnect throughout a system. Does that shortcut for your team cause unnecessary work further down the line?

Gaining a new perspective

It’s that “walk a mile in someone’s shoes” type of thing. Talking to the person that does the process, and seeing them do it gives you a new perspective. From this new perspective, you have a better likelihood to help improve the process. Improvement starts with observations. The best observations come from the actual place – not from your office on the other side of the building. How many times have in your career has the CEO, or even your manager, tried to implement a new process without going to the “actual place?” It happens and often has poor results.

Conclusion

The Gemba Walk is vital to understanding and improving a process. Not only that, but these walks can help foster collaboration and communication. Make Gemba Walks a part of your company culture and see the benefits for yourself.

Gemba Walks aren’t only for work. Gemba Walks in your personal life or your community can also be enlightening. 


If you find would like to know more about Gemba, check out LinkedIn Learning. Steven Brown’s Lean Inventory Management course has some great tips and was an informative resource for this article. Thanks, Steven!

About the author – Jason S. Sullivan is a Quality Assurance Specialist for Mouser Electronics. Connect with Jason on LinkedIn and check out his other articles!


An article by Jason S. Sullivan, 08-11-19

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