Table of Contents
- What Is a Gemba Walk?
- What Does Gemba Mean?
- 5 Gemba Walk Principles
- Comparing Traditional and Structured Gemba Walks
- Setting Up a Gemba Walk Structure
- Importance of Gemba Walks
- 6 Steps to Conduct a Successful Gemba Walk
- How Gemba Walks Sustain Proactive Management
- 6 Gemba Walk Benefits
- Why Digitalize Gemba Walks?
- Tervene’s Gemba Walk Solution
- FAQ: Gemba Walks
Organizations, regardless of their size, can significantly benefit from engaging in management practices focusing on efficiency, safety, and quality. Among many Lean management practices, the Gemba Walk stands out. This approach involves managers actively stepping into the work environment to develop a firsthand view of daily operations and potential improvement areas.
What Is a Gemba Walk?
A Gemba Walk is a management practice where leaders go to the front lines (to the Gemba) to identify improvement opportunities, potential issues, and waste areas. In the process, managers must walk around where work is done, from factory floors to warehouses and healthcare facilities.
Taiichi Ohno, the father of Just-in-time production, developed the concept of Gemba Walks, a fundamental part of the Lean management philosophy. It’s about engaging with team members, seeing the reality of operations firsthand, and identifying improvement areas.
What Does Gemba Mean?
Gemba (or genba): The word’s literal meaning in Japanese is “the real place.” It emphasizes on-site observation and refers to where value creation happens, where most issues and waste occur.
5 Gemba Walk Principles
Go to the Source (Gemba) – Go See
This principle encourages leaders to leave their desks and experience the work environment firsthand. It’s about witnessing the operations, grasping the challenges teams face on the floor, and shifting focus from paperwork to real-world situations.
Here, the emphasis is on examining and understanding the processes in play, not the individuals performing them. This perspective seeks to find ways to improve these processes while focusing on constructive solutions rather than placing blame.
Effective Gemba Walks imply open communication and connecting with the workforce. It’s about asking insightful questions (what, why, and how), genuinely listening to feedback, and seeing the issues from the perspective of those dealing with them daily.
Respect for People
Respect forms the foundation of Gemba Walks. This principle follows the ethos of “Go see, ask why, and show respect.” It’s about valuing employees’ contributions and creating an environment of shared respect.
Problem-solving and Continuous Improvement
Central to this principle is the drive towards continuous improvement and effective problem-solving right where the issues occur. It encourages a proactive stance in identifying and addressing problems.
Comparing Traditional and Structured Gemba Walks
Regarding Gemba Walks, there’s a distinct difference between the traditional approach and the more structured method. Let’s explore how each style works and what makes them unique.
Traditional Gemba Walks
Think of these as more exploratory and open-ended. Leaders might pick a particular focus, like a specific process or problem area. They wander the workspace, observe, ask questions, and jot down notes about improvements or waste reduction opportunities.
Picture a scenario where an executive team, including a quality manager and a supervisor, walks the floor and spots an issue. They aim to understand the problem better and brainstorm potential solutions, all while gathering real-time insights from the team on the ground.
It’s like detective work – looking for clues and piecing together the bigger picture.
Structured Gemba Walks
Now, this is where things get more organized and proactive. These walks follow a set schedule and have a clear objective – to identify issues before they escalate.
Imagine team leaders who regularly check their areas of responsibility, not just waiting for problems to surface but actively searching for potential hiccups and opportunities to improve. This method ensures that leaders stay consistently engaged with the day-to-day operations and can address issues promptly.
Gemba Walk vs. MBWA (Management by Wandering Around)
Let’s delve into the nuances between Gemba Walk and Management by Wandering Around (MBWA), two distinct management methods.
MBWA – Management by Wandering Around
This approach is more informal and spontaneous. Imagine a supervisor who casually strolls through the production floor, checking in with teams and ensuring everything runs smoothly, but without a specific checklist or structured validation process.
It’s a way for managers to stay connected with their teams and the ground realities of the workplace beyond the confines of office paperwork. However, unlike a Gemba Walk, MBWA doesn’t usually focus on specific themes or areas.
In contrast, a Gemba Walk is more deliberate and focused. Managers engaging in a Gemba Walk have a clear purpose or theme for their observation. They actively seek out areas for improvement, potential issues, or waste in specific processes or departments.
It’s a structured approach beyond being present on the floor; it’s about engaging with the work environment to drive continuous improvement and problem-solving.
Setting Up a Gemba Walk Structure
It’s all about finding the right rhythm for different management levels.
For instance, team leaders might do their rounds twice daily to monitor operations closely. Supervisors could opt for a daily or weekly schedule to balance their broader supervisory duties. As for executives or upper management, a twice-a-month schedule might be ideal to maintain strategic oversight without getting caught up in details.
Whether you lean towards the traditional, structured, or relaxed approach (or a blend of the three) depends on your organization’s unique needs and dynamics. What matters is staying connected with the actual work through spontaneous visits or scheduled rounds. For more information, please read our full article about who should perform Gemba Walks.
Importance of Gemba Walks
Their importance is closely related to sustaining a robust continuous improvement culture (also known as Kaizen) at the heart of all efforts. Gemba Walks systematically identify improvement opportunities and transform ideas into improvement plans.
Here are several reasons why various lines of work incorporate them into managers’ schedules:
- They prompt managers to identify potential issues before they escalate.
- They identify improvement opportunities regularly.
- They help increase productivity and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).
- They reduce waste while mitigating health and safety hazards.
- They engage all organizational levels (team leaders, managers, and executives).
- They provide contextual insight into work processes.
- They enhance project commitment and enhancement.
- They put employees’ ideas and suggestions for improvement forward.
- They provide data and information for feedback and follow-up.
6 Steps to Conduct a Successful Gemba Walk
Carry out Gemba Walks by following this 6-step guide:
- Define the Purpose
First, define the Gemba Walk’s goal. This preliminary step will help the supervisor stay focused on a specific topic and notice finer details rather than get distracted by diverse elements.
Review production schedules, safety guidelines, and other relevant information. Prepare a checklist with pertinent questions and checkpoints. Communicate the plan with employees to ensure cooperation.
Managers must walk around the workplace with a form, checklist, or mobile device. Have them assess processes, record firsthand observations, engage with team members, and identify issues, waste, and improvement opportunities.
- Communicate Points of Interest
Prioritize takeaways and escalate them to the appropriate management level or meeting.
- Take Action
Address the identified issues. This initiative may include implementing countermeasures, new processes, providing additional training, or changing the production schedule.
Ensure adequate and permanent changes. Repeat this process regularly (daily, weekly, monthly, or any custom recurrence). Communicate changes and improvements to employees. Provide feedback and follow-ups.
How Gemba Walks Sustain Proactive Management
Proactive management is one of the most essential principles of Gemba Walks. To illustrate it, consider the following example.
A manager is newly in charge of monitoring an automobile parts production line. A superior has informed them that high defect rates have occurred recently. As a first initiative, the supervisor decides to set a daily Gemba Walk in their schedule to identify the root cause of the issue and stay on top of the problem.
During the Gemba Walk, the manager visits the production line, observes the process, and talks with the operators. Together, they notice that one machine produces inconsistent parts and causes defects downstream.
Upon further investigation, the supervisor discovers that the machine needs to be serviced and appropriately calibrated. They schedule maintenance and train the operators to calibrate the machine properly. As a result, the defect rate decreases while the overall efficiency and quality of the production line improve.
By proactively identifying and addressing the issue through a Gemba Walk, the supervisor prevented further defects and improved the production line’s efficiency.
6 Gemba Walk Benefits
Gemba Walks offer several benefits. Here are the six most significant:
Gemba Walks help identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies in the production process. By addressing these issues early on, manufacturers improve their efficiency and reduce waste.
To illustrate this benefit, let’s take a hypothetical example. In a cooling system manufacturing plant, a Gemba Walk may reveal that the distance between the parts inventory and assembly line is causing delays. The plant then reduces unnecessary movement by reorganizing the layout to smoothen production flow and reduce cycle time.
By identifying and addressing issues proactively, organizations improve product and service quality. Gemba Walks also help supervisors identify areas where additional training may be necessary.
For example, a Gemba Walk may help identify inconsistencies in patient care procedures in a hospital. Addressing these gaps through staff training and improved scheduling will lead to improved patient care and reduced rates of medical errors.
Gemba Walks enable better communication between supervisors and staff. This effort builds trust, improves department collaboration, and leads to better problem-solving and more efficient processes.
For instance, Gemba Walks may bridge the communication rift between technicians and administrative staff in a medical lab. This proactive management practice leads to more coordinated efforts in handling patient samples and improved turnaround times for test results.
By regularly conducting Gemba Walks, supervisors identify potential safety hazards and take steps to mitigate them before they become a significant concern. This recurring activity prevents accidents and injuries in the workplace.
A Gemba Walk in a chemical plant may reveal a potential fire hazard due to improperly stored chemicals. Management can then rectify the storage methods and reduce accident risks.
Participating in Gemba Walks enables leaders to develop a deeper understanding of operations, enhance problem-solving skills, and strengthen employee relationships. It also reinforces the importance of servant leadership and the value of leading by example.
During Gemba Walks in a textile factory, the quality control manager may identify inconsistencies in fabric dyeing processes. By immediately addressing these inconsistencies and implementing standardized procedures, the manager initiates a cycle of continuous improvement that leads to consistent product quality and reduced waste.
Gemba Walks facilitate a culture of continuous improvement by enabling leaders to identify and address issues promptly, document improvement opportunities, and monitor progress over time.
The administrative team may notice prolonged wait times and patient bottlenecks in the emergency room during Gemba Walks in a large urban hospital. They can respond by streamlining triage processes and improving communication between triage nurses and emergency physicians.
Why Digitalize Gemba Walks?
Digitalizing Gemba Walks brings several advantages to the process:
Manual Transcription Elimination
Traditional Gemba Walks usually require manual note-taking on paper. Someone must transcribe or enter the information into a filing or computer system. This process is time-consuming and prone to errors.
Tervene’s digital solution eliminates the need for multiple entries, as data is entered, sorted, and stored directly into the system. This redundancy elimination saves time and ensures accuracy in the data collected – no need to send emails or transcribe follow-up tasks after a Gemba Walk.
Automated Data Collection and Analytics
Data from digital Gemba Walks is automatically collected and analyzed. This feature enables real-time insights and analysis. Managers and supervisors can make informed decisions quickly and benefit from enhanced visibility.
Streamlined Issue Resolution
Software solutions allow immediate action after identifying issues during a digital Gemba Walk. Users seamlessly convert an observation into a task or include it in a meeting agenda for discussion. This streamlined resolution ensures that talking points are addressed quickly and are kept from being lost in the day-to-day shuffle of operations.
For example, healthcare administrators can address hygiene issues in patient rooms as soon as they are flagged by staff and avoid ongoing safety problems.
Tracking and Logging for Continuous Improvement
Supervisors can easily log opportunities for improvement in digital Gemba Walk systems. This feature promotes a culture of continuous improvement, as it encourages teams to document Kaizen ideas and track their implementation in a single action.
Tervene’s Gemba Walk Solution
Working towards proactive management in manufacturing, distribution, and healthcare sectors requires appropriate practices and tools. Tervene’s Gemba Walk solution facilitates structured and standardized floor tours. The solution upgrades operational control, visibility, and problem prevention. Seamlessly integrating safety, compliance, and quality management, Tervene raises the bar of efficiency and reliability.
Real-Life Case Study: Gemba Walks at Canimex’s Factory
Team leaders use their tablets daily to perform Gemba Walks at each workstation. They proactively identify problems and opportunities. Task deadlines are assigned to support groups to resolve the issue depending on the situation’s priority. Read the complete case study.
“We use tablets for our Gemba Walks, where we visit each workstation and get a head start on any issues.”Yannick Lévesque, Production Manager, Canimex