The Best Gemba Walk Checklist
A checklist of what you would like to cover in your Gemba Walk is important even if some of the questions you ask may come up ad hoc. It structures the entire process and ensures you cover the whole value stream without missing important items.
You can even structure a general Gemba Walk checklist template as a questionnaire in a daily management system such as UTrakk to ensure all the observations and conversations are well documented.
However, a poorly structured checklist could exclude some important questions and steps, missing opportunities to capture issues and performance discrepancies to act on them. You might overlook them or have to go back and validate the points you missed.
To prevent this from happening, we have put together tips on how to create the best Gemba Walk checklist, as well as some Gemba Walk example questions. Using these tips to create your checklist guarantees you a successful Gemba Walk.
- What is a Gemba Walk?
- Why is a Gemba Walk important?
- Elements of a Gemba Walk
- Gemba Walk Checklist Questions Examples
- How to make your checklist template the best
- What do you do after a Gemba Walk?
What Is a Gemba Walk?
The word Gemba originates from the Japanese word "Genba", which is made up of two kanji characters. "Gen" means "actual", and "ba" means place. It literally translates to going to where the actual work happens (the “real place” or “actual place”).
A Gemba Walk is a fundamental part of lean manufacturing, which is based on the Toyota model. It involves the leader going to the workplace to observe with their own eyes and ask questions to get first-hand insight into the process to identify best practices and problem areas. It is quite effective by itself but can be taken a step further for better results through active supervision tours.
Like other lean tools (5S, PDCA, SMED, lean six sigma), the Gemba Walk can be used in all industries for any process such as marketing operations, call centers, factory floors, shipping facilities, and warehouses among others.
Why Is a Gemba Walk Important?
Continuous improvement requires continuous direct observation. That is why most leaders focus on measurable performance indicators (KPIs) such as error rates, customer satisfaction scores, cost efficiency, and speed among other metrics. Consequently, Gemba Walks may be a starting point for Kaizen events as it allows for a good understanding of a problem or improvement points.
Improvement opportunities and process problems can be discovered not only by measurable performance indicators but also by those that can't be measured. That is why lean manufacturing, and more specifically Gemba Walk, is important. You need to be there and see for yourself to understand whether there are any inefficiencies or waste (mudas), find out their root cause, and what corrective action needs to happen to improve.
According to a Harvard study, Gemba Walks improve performance because:
- It leads to successful problem resolutionbecause seeing a problem in context improves managers' understanding of the problem, its negative impact, and its causes; increasing their motivation and ability to work with front-line staff and managers to resolve the issue.
- Gemba Walk's repeated cycles of identifying and resolving problems may create an organizational capability for improvement that reduces the cost of future improvement efforts, creating a positive dynamic.
- Communication from front-line workers about problems aligns managers' perspectives with customers' experiences, enabling managers to effectively allocate scarce resources among the organization's multiple improvement opportunities.
- Managers' presence on the front lines sends a visible signal that the organization is serious about resolving problems. This increases employees' beliefs that leadership values improvement, which in turn spurs employees to engage in the discretionary behaviors necessary for process improvement.
Elements of a Gemba Walk
For you to understand the process and any improvement opportunities, you should base your Gemba Walk on three key activities: go see, ask why, and show respect.
The first element of a Gemba Walk is going where the process is. It could be a checkout line, call center, shop floor, shipping facility, or any other place with work processes.
Being there allows you to gain a better understanding of the people working in your organization. You can accurately gauge whether they understand the purpose of their work, follow standard work practices, and whether all the required resources are available and are being used efficiently.
Instead of throwing suggestions at the problem, a good leader first seeks to understand the problem. A popular method is using the 5 why method to explore the cause and effect relationships of the problem. The method involves asking why five times to understand the nature of the problem and discover its solution.
Here is an example problem we can solve using the 5 why method. Let's say the milk is spoiled.
Problem: The milk spoils.
- Why? We did not drink all the milk before the expiration.
- Why? We had too much milk.
- Why? We bought more than we needed.
- Why? There was a discount on bulk purchases.
It doesn't have to be exactly five whys. You can do as few or as many as it takes to understand the problem and its solution.
For the people you lead to trust you enough to share valuable information that you can use to solve the problem, you need to treat them with respect. You should not use a Gemba Walk to assess performance or as a way to assign blame and point fingers.
A well-executed Gemba Walk routine makes field team members feel that their manager is making them a priority. Evidence of this is the fact that they invest several hours each day in active supervision tours to be present and available for them.
Gemba Walk Checklist Questions Examples
The most crucial step in the Gemba Walk is to capture performance gaps by observing and questioning operation workers. To do this, you need to ask the right questions based on your performance areas.
Here are some examples you can include in your Gemba Walk question list based on your performance areas:
How are you doing today?
Are your goals and priorities clear?
Do you foresee any pitfalls or obstacles by the end of the day?
Is the team following good work practices (SOP)?
Did the team encounter any technical issues?
Have you identified any opportunities for process improvement?
Is the machine speed set to standard?
Is the shift changeover smooth and without downtime?
Did employees encounter any productivity issues?
Is the product packaged properly?
Is it the right pallet size for shipping?
Is the weight and branch number listed on the package?
Does the work environment meet standards?
Is there debris on the floor?
Are there pallets standing on the floor or between stations?
Health and Safety:
Has there been an incident since the last Gemba Walk?
Is personal protective equipment (PPE) adequate and available?
Does the team have all the tools needed to do a safe job?
Do you have any specific comments?
Steps to Create the Best Gemba Walk Checklist
The sample questions above only give you a general idea of the kinds of questions you should ask during a Gemba Walk. To come up with a Gemba Walk checklist that is perfect for the specific process you want to evaluate, here are five steps to help you.
1. Narrow Down the Focus
For your Gemba Walk to yield great results, you should focus on one or more themes that you want to address. This allows you to focus all the attention on one thing or to make sure you cover all the priorities of your organization.
Thus, your Gemba Walk can target only one or all the performance axes (productivity, quality, lead time, human, health & safety, etc.). It all depends on the objective:
Any other relevant objective
This will allow you to tailor your Gemba Walk checklist to your goals and to ask targeted questions. However, a Gemba Walk is not meant for complex problem-solving. In this case, a distinct exercise is in order.
Note: Identifying standardized tracking metrics allows the organization to send strong messages about its priorities. If front-line managers of all shifts and departments systematically track health & safety, quality and productivity, work teams will be clearly aware of the value placed on these areas in the organizational culture.
2. Prepare the Team
Unless you are doing it alone, inform the Gemba Walk team about the objectives of the Gemba Walk and how to conduct it. This reduces first-time anxiety.
You should also share your checklist with them. If you ask for their input, they might be able to point out a question, detail, or flaw you missed during preparation.
3. Focus on the Process
Remember that the goal of a Gemba Walk is to identify improvement opportunities. As such, your questions should be structured to evaluate the process and not the person.
The moment a person feels like they are being evaluated, judged, or blamed, they may not be able to clear straightforward answers.
Important! This does not mean that you should not show interest in the person, quite the contrary. The gaps to be captured can be of human nature, i.e. related to the well-being of individuals, their training, their skills, and competencies, etc. After all, the Gemba Walk is a special time for team members to help them achieve their goals.
4. Record Every Observation and Answer
Every data point you and your team come across needs recording. Your checklist should provide space for you to record the answers to the questions. However, there are tools such as UTrakk that digitize Gemba Walks and make data entry easy. UTrakk also allows you to create an action and assign someone to handle it.
5. Develop the Gemba Walk technique
The supervisor must now be able to execute the Gemba Walk. In addition to having a good checklist in hand, they must develop the right active supervision behaviors to provide their team with the support they need to achieve their goals. This includes the ability to mobilize team members, communicate clear objectives and regularly express recognition for a job well done, an initiative, or a good attitude.
A coach is a valuable ally in developing these skills and behaviors and then ensuring that they are integrated into daily life.
What Do You Do After a Gemba Walk?
After completing the Gemba Walk, the next step includes setting up a meeting. This meeting focuses on compiling feedback and the different team members' views on process improvement and drawing an actionable conclusion. Some of the things that occur during the meeting include:
- Discussing the methods used in the Gemba Walk and whether they were effective.
- Identifying the value and non-value activities in the process and eliminating the latter.
- Clarifying and documenting the discussion points and details that need follow-up on the next Gemba Walk.
- Sharing improvement views and creating an improvement plan based on the feedback and observations recorded from the Gemba Walk.
- Comparing past results to see the trends in results and implementation.
- Lastly, coming up with a follow-up plan to check how well the suggested improvements have been implemented.
A Gemba Walk checklist is not like any other checklist. Most of them usually serve as a mere reminder. A Gemba Walk checklist plays a role bigger than that. It is the difference between a successful Gemba Walk and one that fails.
Learn More About the Best Gemba Walk Checklist
Approaching the Gemba Walk with a checklist ensures you collect all the data you need for continuous improvement. It also ensures that you remain structured and collect high-quality data. However, there are far too many details to consider, data to collect, and forms to fill. It is impractical to walk around with that huge file. You would have to pick between an effective Gemba Walk, or using a small file.
Luckily, with a tool such as UTrakk, you don't have to make that choice. It allows you to conduct a Gemba Walk without carrying any physical forms or files. It simplifies data collection and entry so you can conduct a hassle-free Walk.
If you are looking to improve the operational and financial performance of your organization, Proactive International is here for you. We will help you improve your management tools, your processes, and your communication in order to become more efficient on a daily basis. We will sit down with you and analyze your current processes and structures to come up with solutions that will result in the best productivity gains for your organization.