The Gemba Walk: 3 Fundamental Characteristics of the Bones of Gemba

Posted by Mark Loscudo on Feb 1, 2022 12:04:49 PM

Gemba Walk

In part one of this series, we discussed the importance of the Gemba walk and how well executed and thought out Gemba Walks can drive sustained Continuous Improvement. Great Gemba Walks become a focused process whereby leadership engages with various parts of the organization to observe, learn, and provide support to meet organizational goals and objectives and more importantly, the needs of its customers. Leadership is observing, learning, and engaging where value is being created, and teaching the team members to be problem solvers to achieve continuous improvement.

Taiichi Ohno the father of the Toyota Production system, (TPS), once said: “When you walk the factory floor, (work area), you should walk in a way that takes you hours to go 100 meters.” In other words, understanding requires observation, study, and support to help drive improvement. A quick walk through will not reveal the real issues and problems getting in the way of the work. The objective is not for leadership to make the improvements, but to support those doing the work and help them identify the root causes of problems to create value and make the work safer, easier, and better. By driving out non-value-added activities, there will be sustained improvement.

An Effective Gemba Walk has 3 fundamental characteristics:

  1. Focused Purpose
  2. Alignment
  3. Engagement

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

  1. The Gemba Walk has a focused purpose: To understand why the work being done is important for customers both internally and externally, and ways to make the work more value-added. A well planned Gemba walk is focused on a specific work area with a specific purpose, otherwise it’s a waste of time.

Why would leadership be walking out in the Gemba? What is the value-added purpose? Is it to point out random observed issues or to observe and learn specific aspects of the operation? A focused walk may be to observe a work cell that has quality issues, or low productivity. Maybe it’s observing the finance department to understand why cash flow has become a problem, or a work area where accidents have dramatically increased over the past few months. I tell leaders to think narrow and deep when engaging with teams in the workplace. What is the specific issue the team is working on and what’s getting in the way of the work?

  1. The work being observed is aligned: The walk should identify areas where the work being done is not aligned with the company strategy and customers’ needs. A very smart person once said work can be broken up into two parts with all workers wearing two hats:
    1. Daily work: In most cases, this is the transactional aspects of the job - making parts, creating reports, servicing customers, sales, marketing, etc.
    2. Improvement work: This includes but is not limited to working on problems or opportunities, identifying root cause issues, implementing countermeasures, or experimenting with proposed improvements.

When you think about alignment, consider how you can improve daily work, remove waste, and improve flow. A Great Gemba walk focuses on understanding these gaps and providing support. The key is to focus on the few critical issues or opportunities.

  1. Engagement: This is an opportunity for leaders to learn and nurture a more effective working environment. By creating meaningful engagement with employees based on focused observations, learning, and open-ended questioning, leaders can provide support and coaching on how they can participate more in effective problem solving. One of the critical issues in today’s workplace is a disengaged workforce. Using focused Gemba walks as part of Leader Standard Work can establish meaningful engagement. Just imagine a Plant Manager, VP of Operations, or even the President of the company directly engaging with and helping work center teams on a scheduled basis with their problem-solving process and countermeasures.

Next time we will discuss the 3 Stages of a Focused Gemba Walk:

  • Preparation
  • The Walk
  • Debrief

In the meanwhile, read part 1 of the Gemba Walk series. IMEC is here to support your improvement transformations. Let us help you develop your robust focused Gemba Walk process - schedule 15 minutes with myself or another IMEC expert to discuss your specific needs.

Featured on-demand webinars:

WHERE WORK HAPPENS: The Power of Gemba Walks for Continuous Improvement
During this seminar you will learn how to conduct an effective Gemba Walk and enhance your team’s continuous improvement journey.
Watch on demand


LEADER STANDARD WORK: The Glue of Sustaining Continuous Improvement
This session focuses on the how Leader Standard Work (LSW) effectively changes the paradigm of how leaders work with their teams. LSW is a best practice moving leadership away from an audit mentality toward structured coaching, which instills a sense of ownership, accountability, and continuous improvement. It is a shift in how we lead and drive improvement.
Watch on demand


Mark Loscudo

Written by Mark Loscudo

Topics: lean Manufacturing, operations, continuous improvement, process efficiency, Leadership, standard work, Gemba Walk

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