Definition of a Gemba Walk
"Gemba," or "Genba," is a Japanese word that means "the actual place," the place where work happens. In manufacturing, it typically refers to the shop floor, providing tangible insight into how products are created and what processes take shape at their source. This concept was developed by Taiichi Ohno, an executive at Toyota.
"Gemba" is similar to the Japanese term "Genchi Genbutsu," one of the first principles of the Toyota production system, and consists of going directly to the factory floor to see what the problems are, discussing them with the people involved in the site, and thus making more informed decisions.
Gemba walks offer managers and leaders an effective way to get real insights into what problems may exist on their team and areas that need improvement. By visiting the "Gemba" instead of staying in the conference room, managers can observe processes firsthand, ask questions to their team members, and provide feedback directly.
Here are the basics of Gemba walks:
● Who: Managers and executives are the typical participants of Gemba walks.
● What: Through these walks, managers aim to identify potential problems while executives get an overall view of how processes function. By having specific themes for their walk, they can pay attention to certain parts or search out a particular type of waste (referred to as "muda" in Japanese) to make informed decisions later informed decisions later on.
● When: The frequency is determined by those taking part but normally depends on the situation at hand. For example, daily observations are more common among managers, and weekly/monthly visits are done by higher levels of management.
● Where: A traditional Gemba walk brings managers to the real place, hence the shop floor, so they can get a first-hand impression of processes. This provides them with detailed information on what's working well or not quite up to expectations. In this way, it's possible for leadership teams to also better bridge theory and practice when it comes to understanding operations.
● Why: Gemba walks provide a great opportunity for businesses to gain insights into their daily operations and to implement improvement projects. Managers can observe first-hand how processes are conducted and identify areas where small, incremental improvements could be made. Furthermore, input from all levels of the organization involved in Gemba walks promotes collaboration that leads to benefits beyond just process improvement.
What does Gemba Walk mean in Lean Manufacturing and Kaizen?
Gemba walk is a powerful tool to make sure your business runs smoothly and efficiently. It is used in the Lean management philosophy and the Kaizen method. The former (Lean Manufacturing) uses it to identify potential problems before they get worse, while the latter uses this approach by engaging front-line staff in making sustainable changes that produce better results over time.
Is Gemba Lean or Six Sigma?
Gemba is a Japanese concept with origins in Lean Manufacturing and Kaizen, but it's also been adopted for Lean Six Sigma process improvement. This data-driven approach is used to optimize processes for greater efficiency.
What about Gemba Walks and MBWA?
Although both are similar, Gemba Walk and MBWA (Management By Walking Around) should not be confused. The former is done with a clearly defined objective, structure, and frequency established beforehand. The latter is done more generally by observing the work floor and talking to the employees on the spot.
How does Gemba Walk apply to Lean Manufacturing?
In the context of operational excellence, the Gemba walk is an essential tool for Lean Manufacturing to help managers recognize areas where operations can be improved. By visiting the Gemba and observing processes in action, organizations gain valuable insights that allow them to identify wasteful activities and streamline their operations with more efficient solutions. The ultimate goal is to reach a higher level of performance.
Why is Gemba Walk important in Kaizen (continuous improvement)?
Gemba walk is an important tool in Kaizen because it empowers employees to change their work and enables managers to get their valuable input. Engaging with the source of work processes can help create an atmosphere that drives continuous improvement while promoting employee ownership in their job - all vital aspects of proactive management.
Examples of Gemba Walks
Some examples of Gemba walks include:
● Quality control: A quality control Gemba walk is a tool used to ensure excellence in production. During the process, a manager visits the production line to gauge performance and pinpoint opportunities for improvement. By closely observing processes and identifying product defects or issues with quality, solutions can be formulated quickly to achieve better results.
● Inventory management: To ensure the smooth operation of a warehouse, inventory management managers take Gemba walks to help identify any potential improvements. By observing processes and analyzing stock levels, they can pinpoint where changes may be required for maximum efficiency. With targeted adjustments from these experts in supply chain optimization, warehouses are set up for success.
● Lean manufacturing: A manager conducts Gemba walk in the factory to identify potential improvements and make processes run more efficiently. Through careful observation, they can pinpoint any bottlenecks or broken equipment that could be slowing progress down, paving the way for an optimized production cycle. The Gemba Walk also contributes to the monitoring of performance indicators (KPI) since it allows validation progress directly on-site.
● Safety: Managers can identify potential safety hazards by walking the production line and observing work processes. This process allows them to collaborate with employees to make any necessary changes for improved workplace safety.
● Mass production: This Gemba walk involves visiting each step of the assembly line process and engaging in conversation with workers to gain further insight into the process’s strengths and weaknesses.
How to improve a Gemba Walk?
To ensure an effective Gemba walk, it's important to follow best practices. From pre-walk planning goals to post-session follow-up, these best practices make sure everyone involved achieves maximum benefit from the experience:
Plan your Gemba walk
To ensure that your Gemba walk is as effective and productive as possible, planning properly for the visit is important. Consider objectives and questions to hone what you'd like to get out of it. Refer to our Best Gemba Walk Checklist article for all the questions that you should include in your Gemba walk.
Respect your employees and the work they do. It's essential to display a genuine interest in what is going on when you conduct a Gemba walk. To get the most out of this experience, avoid interrupting any processes or activities that are taking place.
Unearth quality insights and ideas from your team by engaging them in meaningful dialogue, a must in the Management 4.0 era. Ask insightful questions, listen actively to their feedback during Gemba walks, and empower employees by making them part of any problem resolution and valuing their suggestions for improvement opportunities.
Note-taking is essential for getting the most out of your Gemba walk. Doing so can help you uncover opportunities to improve processes and track progress. Here, a digital tool like UTrakk can make your life much easier by digitalizing your Gemba walk questionnaire. You’ll also be able to take photos, create action items on the spot and assign them to colleagues.
Mix up the schedule
To gain a full understanding of the process, Gemba walks should be varied regularly. Step out of your routine and explore new times to observe. This involves varying days, hours, and even parts of the month to offer interesting insights.
After completing a Gemba walk, use it as an opportunity to follow up with employees and provide constructive feedback. By doing so, you can make changes where needed, which will help ensure progress is tracked in the long run.
What are Active Supervision Tours?
The increasing popularity of the Gemba walk technique over the past 15 years has enabled many companies across a wide range of industries to benefit from improved Lean manufacturing practices. But something was missing. That's why, at Proaction International, we've evolved this model to include human capital as an essential performance dimension and helped hundreds of organizations reap even greater rewards. We call this evolution of the Gemba walks “Active Supervision Tours.”
You can create an incredibly powerful and engaging experience for your teams through active supervision. Taking a genuine interest in people's views and helping them find solutions together are vital steps toward maximizing performance and motivating colleagues.
To stay ahead of the game, manufacturing managers must be willing to step away from their desks and into the Gemba. By allowing them to gain valuable insights into what is happening on the production floor, Gemba walks create an invaluable connection between leaders and those who do the work. With this information at hand, businesses aiming for operational excellence can stay ahead of trends and better understand customer needs – a true win-win situation.