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Gemba: What is it and how will it improve your processes?

Are you looking to improve the processes of your organization and increase the output of your staff by analyzing the challenges your team encounters and identifying opportunities for improvement? If that is a goal you have for your company, then you need to adopt the gemba approach. Below is a guide about everything you need to know about the approach.

What is Gemba?

It refers to a Japanese term that means “the actual place”. The term, also known as genba, is used in lean management to refer to a specific location that provides value to the team. In Japan, the police refer to a crime scene as the gemba, which makes it common for news reporters to say that they are reporting live from the gemba.

In other words, gemba is the place where real work occurs in an organization. For example, in the manufacturing industry, the factory floor or the manufacturing floor would be classified as gemba because the factory floor is where the real work happens and where people can observe and analyze the work. Other areas that can be classified as a place of value where a team can make valuable and informative observations include a sales floor or a construction site.

Over time, the gemba concept has been adopted by the business community, particularly in lean manufacturing to help managers and employees identify the visible problems in the business process that hamper production and spot opportunities for improvement.

The practice of “gemba walk”

A gemba walk refers to the practice of going to a site to observe the actual processes, understand how the processes work, learn from the observations, and ask questions. Employers, managers, and business leaders that follow lean management philosophy frequently take the walk to gemba to observe the work process of their employees, engage with the employees as they work, and identify opportunities that will lead to continuous improvement.

The concept of the Gemba walk was initially introduced by Taiichi Ohno, who was an Executive at Toyota Company. The walk gave staff members an opportunity to take a break from their day-to-day tasks and walk around the floor of the organization to identify activities that may lead to waste while also scanning for opportunities for improvement.

Gemba walk checklist

If you want to implement the walk in your organization to encourage more observations and improvements, then you need to have the following things on your checklist:

A theme

When you and your team go to gemba, ensure that you have a specific theme in mind. The theme will allow your team to focus their efforts on the right area for more effective results. You can focus on themes like productivity, safety, or cost efficiency to help your team identify any areas of waste within the organization and come up with various strategies for improvement. Moreover, if you want a successful walk to gemba, ensure that you have a list of specific questions to ask the employees in order to make more accurate observations and improvements.

A team

Another significant thing to add to your checklist is the team that will be observed. If you want honest and effective insights, ensure that the team to be observed is aware of the purpose of the walk. The team members should understand that the purpose of the gemba walk is to promote continuous improvement by identifying issues that may be leading to waste or preventing the employees from hitting and exceeding their output targets. As a result, the team will be more collaborative and provide better insight.

Focus

The walk to gemba should not be aimed at evaluating the performance of your employees because the pressure may make the team reluctant to provide important insights about wastage. Instead, your focus should be on the process and not the people. Focus on observing and understanding the workflow of your team in order to identify ways to improve the process and increase output. Focusing on the abilities and performance of your staff will only result in resistance.

Another leader

When taking the walk, ensure that you bring an extra pair of expert eyes in order to engage better with the team. If you are taking the walk in the sales and marketing department, make certain that you bring a leader from a different department.

Someone who handles different tasks outside the department will have a fresh different perspective and may ask unique questions that you did not think of. This will allow you to discover hidden problems that may be causing wastage in the processes.

A notebook to record observations

Write down everything you observe during the walk. Although you may be tempted to formulate a solution immediately after observing problems in the work processes, do not offer any suggestions. Just focus on the analysis first until you cover the entire department so that you can have all the facts you need.

Moreover, having a broad overview will give you better insight into how to use problem-solving tools to minimize waste and maintain continuous improvements.

How long should a Gemba walk take?

Although there is no specific time limit, the reasonable amount of time that the walk should take is between 15 to 45 minutes in each department. For more effective results during the walk, make sure that you target areas that require more attention, such as departments with KPI gaps. This will ensure that you do not spend too much time in well-performing departments with low waste and instead focus on the departments that have opportunities for improvement to decrease waste and increase output. We recommend performing the walk to gemba at least once a week in every department.

Questions to ask during the walk

Asking the right questions during the walk will ensure the walk yields the results you desire for your organization. Having a checklist of well-formulated questions will also ensure you ask them in a solution-focused manner rather than looking for a person to blame. Some of the best questions to ask during the walk include:

  • What are your responsibilities?

  • What is the standard requirement for your task?

  • How does your task align with the objectives of the company?

  • How would you handle the situation if the equipment, materials, and tools, were unavailable?

  • How did you learn to perform your duties?

  • Why do you handle a particular task in a specific way?

What is the difference between Gemba Walks and Management by Walking Around (MBWA)?

Management by Walking Around (MBWA) refers to the process by which a manager walks to the desks or working stations of the employees to observe what they are doing, discuss the work, and offer any assistance required. This type of walk is informal compared to the gemba walk because the walk to gemba is more focused, uses the lean approach, and has its objectives mapped clearly in advance.

Management by Walking Around focuses on providing assistance and solution on the spot to complete a task while the walk to gemba is focused on identifying opportunities for improvement and identifying and eliminating waste processes.

Why educating everyone in an organization with the concept of Gemba is important?

If you want to use the gemba approach in your organization, you need to educate your staff on the importance of gemba so that they can understand that it aims to improve their performance. Since the walk involves approaching key staff members in each department and asking them questions about their work process, make sure that you inform your staff in advance that the walk is only meant to identify problems and create solutions for improvement, and not to scrutinize their performance.

The walk will also allow the company leaders to follow up on ongoing projects and identify any issues that may arise. When employees understand that the walk is meant to simplify their work process by eliminating wastage and solving problems to improve performance and output, they will be more willing to participate.

Get started with Zensimu

Are you ready to train your staff about the gemba approach? Sign up for our Lean Game at Zensimu where we help train your staff by having them play the role of workers in a workshop to get an immersive experience of how the walk takes place, how to make observations, the type of questions to expect, and how the walk will lead to continuous improvement of their performance.