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Gemba Walk is Good. Active Supervision Tours are Better!

Yves Lebrasseur
Active Supervision Tour with iPad

If you are interested in management methods that contribute to improving the performance of organizations, then Lean Management philosophy or Six Sigma has probably already appeared on your radar. Gemba Walk, waste elimination, Kaizen, Toyota Kata, Just in Time, 5S, leader standard work, etc. A number of practices based around this great concept are currently gaining popularity. And for good reason!

They are flexible and aim at generating value for the organization, eliminating non value-added activities and encouraging continuous improvement, all with minimal investment (no CAPEX).

The Gemba Walk, for example, is one such practice that emerged from Toyotism and is being adopted by a growing number of organizations to help them understand the reality of their operations and optimize their processes, whether it is a production floor or administrative operations. However, Gemba Walk can (and should) be taken one step further to integrate the notion of leadership behaviors into the management of performance axes in what we call the “Active Supervision Tour.”

Key takeaways

  • Gemba Walks consist of managers going into the field to observe processes, talk to employees, and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Active supervision tours complete Gemba Walks by integrating management behaviors as a performance axis.
  • Active supervision tours help to boost employee engagement by emphasizing collaboration and real-time problem-solving for effective and sustainable improvements.

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What is Gemba Walk?

Let’s start at the beginning. Gemba is the English word for Genba, a Japanese term meaning "the real place" or "the actual place" where the work takes place. It is also associated to the Japanese term "genchi genbutsu" which means "Go, Look, See".

The Gemba Walk originated from an experience known as the Ohno Circle. Taiichi Ohno, the originator of the Toyota Production System, used to ask managers to stand in a chalk circle at the point of execution of the processes to be observed and leave them there for an extended period of time to absorb the reality of the field in order to understand it better.

Couldn’t the same result be achieved by installing cameras or consulting reports, I hear you ask. The answer is actually no, not at all. What Ohno understood was that operations management is not a desk job– it takes place on the shop floor, with the team members.

And it is in this spirit that Gemba Walk elevates this observational practice into a more active mode. The supervisor is therefore responsible for monitoring the progress of production, informing employees of the objectives for the upcoming period, capturing performance gaps and taking the necessary action to resolve them.

IMPROVE YOUR SUPERVISION TOURS Gemba: Ultimate GuideDownload now

How to conduct a Gemba Walk?

Here are the 5 basic steps of an effective Gemba Walk*:

  • Determine the critical areas and key steps in each process (where to go).
  • Determine an indicator for each key stage (what to check).
  • Carry out the tour on the factory floor using a checklist:
    • For each workstation, validate in real time the indicator identified for the process step
    • Ask the operators if they have any issues to report.
  • Note the actions to be taken to remedy the issues.
  • Follow up on the actions taken to solve the issue

Standard Gemba Walk : 5 steps

*It should be noted that this is a semi-structured approach, which means that there is no single formula for Gemba Walk, but rather a multitude of variations inspired by the Toyota model.

What is an Active Supervision Tour?

The Gemba Walk technique was deployed at Toyota in the 1960s and became popular in North America between 1990 and 2000. Many of the companies across the range of industries that we have been lucky enough to work with over the past 15 years have successfully used the Gemba Walk methodology.

However, although the benefits of increased active supervision and well-established Lean Manufacturing practices are evident in these organizations, a critical dimension was missing. We have therefore evolved the regular Gemba Walk model to include human capital as a performance axis and helped hundreds of companies of all sizes to adopt active supervision tours that sustainably increase gains tenfold.


Putting people at the heart of the process

In order to integrate best human management practices into Gemba Walk and to master the active supervision tour, it is important to first define what is expected from a “good” floor tour:

  • Format – The active supervision tour is a scheduled time at regular intervals during the workday.

    Employees know that their supervisor will visit them on a daily basis, for example, at 8:00 AM, 11:00 AM, and 2:00 PM, and that these few minutes are reserved for them to touch base, ask questions as needed, and bring the supervisor’s attention to issues that are affecting their work and need resolution.
  • Content – Each active supervision tour is an opportunity to strengthen the alignment of operations with the organization’s performance areas, priorities, and values.

    Whether it is for the achievement of operational objectives (units produced, files processed or hours billed), compliance with health and safety standards, or the values of consideration and listening to employees, this moment allows all involved to experience this indispensable consistency in a concrete way.
  • Behavior – A frontline supervisor must be much more than a person who monitors.

    By adopting an ambassadorial attitude and demeanor with an engaging state of mind, the active supervision tour becomes a privileged moment. By taking a real interest in people and asking for their opinions, and by involving them in the solutions, this moment becomes a rich point of contact, a pillar for driving not only performance but also the mobilization of teams.

People-Centric Processes - FORMAT: Schedule time to touch base with employees regularly | CONTENT: Strengthen alignment with organisations's performance axis, priorities and values | BEHAVIOR: Adopt an ambassadorial demeanor with an engaging state of mind

While Gemba Walk offers a more active way of monitoring processes with Key Performance Indicators (KPI), it is possible to adopt the same discipline towards management quality through active supervision tours.

The introduction of Key Behavior Indicators (KBI) contributes to the integration of the human factor into the performance axes of organizations and to the continuous improvement of management practices and skills.

IMPROVE YOUR SUPERVISION TOURS Gemba: Ultimate GuideDownload now

Front line management as a vector of commitment

Without a doubt, performance management is a field sport. And since it depends largely on human labor, it is logical to consider people’s commitment and well-being among the main performance axes of an organization. That is why it’s time to transform your Gemba Walk into an active supervision tour, a management ritual that puts people at the heart of performance.

By involving employees in exclusive, recurring and structured moments with their proximity managers, active supervision tours allow them to proactively discuss their activities and their impact on performance. And this practice has a major impact on employee and team engagement.

This is especially important in the context of labor shortages; when employees know what is expected of them, are consulted on how to proceed, and know that the issues they put forward to the organization result in concrete action, commitment to the organization increases, and so does employee retention.

Technological tools to structure your floor tours

To ensure that best management practices are adopted by managers, integrated into structured active supervision tours, and that their benefits are assured in the long term, it is as essential for the leadership team as for frontline managers to have the right tools. Long gone are the days of notepad and pen Gemba Walks.

Although there are several platforms which digitalize Gemba Walk checklists (such as Damasix, Shizen and Tervene), only UTrakk, our Daily Management System, offers a set of tools that help managers improve in their role and put people at the heart of the organization performance management and process improvement.

With a solution that stimulates collaboration, increases accountability and ensures alignment, Management 4.0 is at your fingertips.



THE MANAGER'S JOURNEY: Discover how a Daily Management System, like UTrakk, supports managers in their daily management activities, throughout the day.

Optimize and structure your active supervision tours with the UTrakk app, available for tablet and iPhone. A complete tool that puts technology at the service of better management behavior.

FAQ - Gemba Walk

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Adopt active supervision and put people at the heart of the process

For successful integration and lasting benefits, Proaction International’s experts guide you through the configuration, implementation, and adoption of UTrakk DMeS.

Yves Lebrasseur

Yves Lebrasseur

Senior Expert - Technical Processes Lecturer at the Engineering Faculty of the University of Sherbrooke, Yves mentors tomorrow's leaders as a supervisor of engineering management Master's degree projects and guides numerous organizations in optimizing their operations through Lean and Six Sigma processes.