Management practices Digitalization

Gemba Walk 2024 Guide: How to Be a Proactive Leader

Audience: Manufacturing and Healthcare Executives, Lean Management and Continuous Improvement Professionals, Operational Leaders and Safety Officers
Last updated: July 5, 2024
Read time: 9 mins
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Charles Bisson
Charles has over six years of experience at Tervene and a deep understanding of digitalizing management systems and how they drive operational excellence.
JP Metivier
JP ensures that Tervene's content reaches the right people. This means creating helpful guides for operational leaders, managing website projects, and observing what works best for our readers.
Tervene
Tervene leads in operational excellence with its proven software and on-site support team. From the front line to the boardroom, we digitize daily processes for faster problem-solving and smarter communication.
Charles Bisson
Charles has over six years of experience at Tervene and a deep understanding of digitalizing management systems and how they drive operational excellence.
JP Metivier
JP ensures that Tervene's content reaches the right people. This means creating helpful guides for operational leaders, managing website projects, and observing what works best for our readers.
Tervene
Tervene leads in operational excellence with its proven software and on-site support team. From the front line to the boardroom, we digitize daily processes for faster problem-solving and smarter communication.
Table of Contents
What Is a Gemba Walk?
5 Gemba Walk Principles
Traditional and Structured Gemba Walks
Setting Up a Gemba Walk Framework
Gemba Walks' Importance
6 Steps to Conduct Gemba Walks
6 Gemba Walk Benefits
Why Digitalize Gemba Walks?
Tervene’s Gemba Walk Solution
FAQ: Gemba Walks
What you’Il learn in 9 minutes
Gemba Walks are a core Lean management practice where leaders visit the front lines to identify improvement opportunities and issues firsthand. Key Points:
  • Principles: Go to the Source, Process Focused, Engagement, Respect for People, Problem-solving, and Continuous Improvement.
  • Types: Traditional (exploratory) vs. Structured (proactive).
  • Benefits: Efficiency, Quality, Communication, Safety, Leadership Development, Continuous Improvement.
  • Digitalization: Benefits include eliminating manual transcription, automated data collection, and streamlined issue resolution.

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.

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5 Gemba Walk Principles

Graphic depicting the five key principles of Gemba Walks: 'Go to the source - Go see,' 'Process-Focused,' 'Employee Engagement,' 'Respect for People,' and 'Problem-Solving.' Each principle is accompanied by a unique icon representing its theme.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Gemba Walk

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 Framework

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

Gemba Walks' Importance

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 Gemba Walks

Carry out Gemba Walks by following this 6-step guide:

    1. 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.

    1. Prepare: 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.

    1. Observe: 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.

    1. Communicate Points of Interest: Prioritize takeaways and escalate them to the appropriate management level or meeting.

    1. Take Action: Address the identified issues. This initiative may include implementing countermeasures, new processes, providing additional training, or changing the production schedule.

    1. Follow-Up: 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.

Gemba Walk Software

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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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Team leaders use their tablets daily to perform Gemba Walks at each workstation. They proactively identify problems and opportunities. Depending on the situation’s priority, tasks with deadlines are assigned to support groups to resolve the issue. 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

FAQ: Gemba Walks

A Gemba Walk Checklist is a tool used to guide managers during their walk around the workplace to ensure they cover essential areas and processes. For more details, check out our Gemba Walk Checklist.

No, a Gemba Walk is not an audit. It focuses on process improvement and employee engagement rather than compliance and inspection. Unlike an audit, which assesses adherence to standards, a Gemba Walk is more about learning and problem-solving.

  • Supervisor Gemba Walks: Focus on daily operational aspects.
  • Team Leader Gemba Walk: Emphasizes team-level concerns and processes.
  • Safety Gemba Walk: Concentrates on identifying and mitigating safety hazards.
  • Warehouse Gemba Walk: Tailored for logistics and storage efficiency.
  • Proactive Gemba Walk: Aims to anticipate and solve problems before they escalate.
  • Do’s: Be respectful, focus on processes, ask open-ended questions, and follow up on findings.
  • Don’ts: Avoid blaming individuals, don’t rush, and don’t ignore feedback.

Gemba Walks observe patient care processes in healthcare, identify inefficiencies, and improve patient experience and well-being.

Gemba Walks focus on improving production efficiency, reducing waste, and ensuring quality control in manufacturing.

In a warehouse setting, Gemba Walks help identify logistical inefficiencies, safety issues, and ways to optimize storage and retrieval processes.

Personnel at various levels, including team leaders, supervisors, and executives, should conduct Gemba Walks. Each level focuses on different aspects of the operations.

No. While a Waste Walk targets waste identification and elimination in processes, a Gemba Walk focuses on efficiency, safety, and employee engagement.

Post-Gemba Walk, analyzing findings, prioritizing actions, implementing changes, and communicating these back to the team is crucial. Follow-up is critical to ensure continuous improvement.

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