Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The thinking behind an effective Gemba Walk

 So what is the "Gemba"?  In simplistic terms - it's where "work" happens or the "actual place".  The Gemba doesn't have to be specific to manufacturing (a common misnomer).   Often Gemba's are invisible or cyber in nature - some examples:

  • Material and Information Flow
  • The day in the life of a document
  • Following a policy in human resources
  • Specifications in Engineering
  • Software integration
  • Date entry
In our experience from discussions and observations there are different articulations of a Gemba Walk across the various industries.   In an organization trying to evolve a culture it's important to understand how essential an effective Gemba walk can be in regard to developing people.   We have often been told that Gemba walks are about: 
  • To be seen
  • Review KPI boards (score-boards)
  • Downtime situations
  • Tours
  • Talking to People
  • Check up on daily result
Not all of these are necessarily incorrect, but we need to understand the purpose behind each "walk" we may be doing, and how it fits into the "development of people" category.    

A question a leader (or anyone) going to the Gemba should always ask is - "What value are you adding to the organization by going?"  Are we removing barriers and constraints for the people to do their process in the most effective and efficient way?   Are we providing resources for people to be successful in problem solving?

So what some of the key points to an effective Gemba walk?

Show Respect  

  • Ask good questions, not demeaning one's, - the people at the process are the experts
  • Build a mutual trust relationship (get to know your people)
  • Sincere communication (listening skills)
  • Leadership accountability for developing people
What are some (not all inclusive list) questions you should ask before, during, and after a Gemba Walk?


  • What is the purpose for this walk?
  • Location?
  • Who is attending the walk?
  • Are there preconceived notions driving our thoughts?
  • PPE requirements
  • Safety Standards


  • Let the process owners or team know why you are there
  • Are there standards (quality etc)?
  • What is the process flow?- can you see it from start to finish?
  • Do we see a push versus a pull?
  • What is takt/cycle for the process?
  • Differentiation between assumptions/opinions versus facts
  • Is the process meeting internal/external customer expectations?
  • Identifying 8 forms of waste?
  • Are you seeing through the process (people are behaving differently because you are there).
  • Go-See, Ask Why, Show Respect
  • Be noticed - noticing, but not judging 


  • Document findings
  • Discuss improvement areas for the Gemba Walk process
  • Develop plan
  • Confirm plan with process owners
  • Support


  • How "value-add" was the Gemba walk to the company? (KPI relationship)
  • Did we develop people?
  • Did we engage with people?
  • Did we provide resources for problem solving?
  • What is the strategy for the next one?

Things to avoid

  • Harsh criticism
  • Selling, telling or convincing
  • Creating a hostile environment
  • Giving answers without questions first
  • Intimidating presence
  • Blaming the person first, instead of looking at the process
  • Root blame versus Root cause (defensive questions)
So to summarize, Gemba Walks are a essential part of a culture that focuses on developing people.   It is the responsibility of all leadership to be the servant leader and remove barriers and provide resources for true problem solving to take place.    Problems that are framed correctly are half solved, so finding the truth is crucial in completing the PDCA kanri cycle.   If you take the time you will often find that where you think discrepancy lives, there is a vacancy instead when you discover the power of the Gemba.  Utilize the extraordinary power of your people, they are one of the most important assets of your organization. 
Until next time, 
Tracey and Ernie Richardson


  1. Good read and quite informative.

  2. very good article, all executives must read. :)

    in one sentence GEMBA walk is 'facts finding not faults'

  3. Well written article !!! To the point of what A Gemba is and how it relates to everyone's operations.

  4. First and foremost walking the Gemba is a learning opportunity for the walker. It's an opportunity to see reality as it truly exist vs. what you perceive (your assumptions). Once the walker is in touch with reality and has set aside her or his assumptions, then you can begin to help others do the same. A key challenge is learning to see, it is quite difficult to let go of your assumptions, whether you are a first line supervisor or an outside executive.

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