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The GEMBA Walk

We can never expect different results from a team by sitting in the corner office and only attending KPI meetings. Instead, we need to see where the real work happens. We need to do Gemba Walks.

The term “Gemba” is Japanese and means “the real place." In Lean management, “Gemba” is the most important place for a team as it is the place where the real work happens.

The Gemba Walk is an essential part of the Lean management philosophy. Its initial purpose is to allow managers and leaders to observe the actual work process, engage with employees, gain knowledge about the work process, and explore opportunities for continuous improvement.

There are 3 important elements of this tool:

  1. Go, see and do. The main idea of the Gemba Walk is for managers and leaders on every level to take regular walks around the shop floor and to be involved in finding wasteful activities through close observation and even active participation if is safe to do so.

  2. Ask why. Always be eager to listen rather than talk.

  3. Respect the people. Keep in mind that a Gemba Walk is not a “boss walk.” We are not there to judge and review results. We are there to collaborate with the team and find solutions to problems together.

Before walking onto the shop floor, you'll need to make a general plan and follow the steps. The plan should depend on certain goals and objectives.

  • Focus on the process, not on the people. A Gemba Walk is not the right time to evaluate the performance of a team. It is to observe, understand, and improve the process.

  • Be where the value stream is. Following the value chain will give the best opportunities to identify areas with a high potential for waste activities.

  • Record your observations. Do not make suggestions during the walk. Just write down everything. We may be tempted to offer a solution immediately, but this would be wrong. We must leave the analysis for later. This is always better than an instant gut feeling.

  • An extra pair of eyes. It may be a good idea to invite a colleague from another department along for the walk. Someone with totally different daily tasks to offer a different perspective.

  • Follow-up. Even if you do not find anything significant during the Gemba Walk, it’s important to share with the team what you have learned or seen.

So, let us have a Gemba Walk, and find something to improve and share with the team!


Imai, M (2012), "Gemba Kaizen: A commonsense approach to continuous improvement strategy", 2nd ed, Mc Graw Hill, NY

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