How to Do a Gemba Walk & The Technology Needed

Sometimes clients ask us about “how to do a Gemba walk” and other times they want a “Gemba Walk Checklist For Manufacturing.”

As leaders in the field of training, communication and tour guide systems, we love these questions!

Before getting into the specifics of how to do a Gemba Walk, it helps to understand what it is. The term comes from a Japanese term meaning “the actual place.” During a Gemba Walk, executives and others visit the actual place where the front line work is done and they watch it in action.

Global automaker Toyota is a pioneer in innovative lean manufacturing practices and Six Sigma. They also developed the Gemba Walk. During the walk, executives and managers visit the production area to watch how things are done. It bridges the gap between abstract theory and the real world.

A Gemba Walk also offers executives a chance to seek practical input from the hands-on staff and as a result, may foster a spirit of cooperation. During the walk, real-world problems may become visible and it offers the opportunity to implement constructive improvements. A Gemba Walk is a powerful tool for any company that strives to achieve a lean manufacturing model.

Although it primarily applies to the manufacturing process, the Gemba Walk has been applied to other industries as well. For example, Amazon uses a version of it so managers can better understand the customer service level of the business. A brick and mortar grocery store chain could use an adapted version so executives could experience how cashiers, stockers, and customer service workers operate.

Your Gemba Walk Checklist For Manufacturing

When planning how to do a Gemba walk, consider the following ideas.

1. Prepare everyone involved.

The factory or floor staff need to understand what it is and why they are being watched. Otherwise, staff may feel uneasy about why executives are watching them work. Also, management and executives need to understand the purpose and buy-in.

Pick a theme covering what you hope to learn from the process. Make sure everyone understands what is going to happen. Many companies benefit from hiring a coach to guide them through the process.

2. Create a Plan

A Gemba Walk usually focused on a specific purpose and a specific Key Performance Indicator (KPI). The manager should prepare a list of questions to learn in-depth about how things are currently done and the reasons why.
It is also a good time to ask staff for ideas since often they are well aware of inefficiencies and areas that need improvement. Often, the goal of a Gemba Walk is to identify any gaps.

Also, plan for any practicalities. What personal safety equipment is required on the floor? Make sure all Gemba Walk participants are dressed appropriately especially if that requires a hardhat, specific types of shoes, or PPE. If the plant is noisy, consider renting or purchasing appropriate hard hat communication equipment like two-way radios which may make it easier to talk.

3. Focus on the Process and Ask the Right Questions

Make it clear to everyone that the focus is on methods and procedures, not individual workers. How, when, and why questions are often good choices. Also, the journalist’s “5 Ws” who, what, when, where, and why provide a neutral framework for information gathering.

During a Gemba Walk, try to avoid:

  • Breaking from the plan or making off-the-cuff comments that deter from the goals.
  • Criticizing people, giving advice, or demanding that specific things are fixed. While it can be tempting and maybe in some cases necessary to address safety risks, the goal is to see the reality.

Treat everyone with respect, after all, it is only natural for workers to feel nervous that a “boss” is touring and watching them.

Some specific questions you may want to ask include:

  • What are you working on?
  • Is there an established process for this work? If so, what is it?
  • Have you experienced any problems with the established process?
  • What was the problem? Why is that a problem?
  • How can the problem be solved?
  • What do you think caused this problem?
  • Who do you speak with when you notice a problem?

4. Take Notes and Record Observations

Take photographs or videos if appropriate. Also, write extensive notes. This helps later as you evaluate any changes that need to be made to streamline the process.

5. Avoid Making Suggestions During the Gemba Walk

The walk is your chance to learn and gather detailed information. Avoid making decisions until after the walk if at all possible. Take time to reflect on what you learned.

6. Consider Taking the Walk With a Team

When you take a Gemba Walk with someone with a different perspective and area of expertise you benefit from hearing their questions and those answers as well as your own. The bigger picture perspective may even result in better ideas and improvements. Be strategic in who else is included so the process is not derailed and benefits the company as a whole.

If your organization is new to the Gemba Walk process a coach can make all the difference in learning and making the most from the process.

7. Follow the “Value Stream”

As you tour, pay special attention to any areas in the manufacturing chain that are higher value. These are often the areas where waste and inefficiencies hurt the company the most. Improving these stages also tends to benefit the company the most.

8. Follow-up

You may want to schedule recurring Gemba Walks, just be careful not to bias your results by having them at the same time each month. By varying the walks, you get a more realistic vision of the variables involved.

Also, follow-up with the employees you observed or spoke with. They have a vested interest in the success of the company and involving them may increase morale and employee buy-in. Doing this also helps smooth the way for any changes implemented in response to the walk.

Periodically return to a Gemba Walk to watch things as they develop. It can be a tool for continual improvement.

How To Do A Gemba Walk With Plant-Tours

For more information on implementing a Gemba Walk program and any essential technology, contact us at Plant-Tours. We offer communication solutions that work well in noisy manufacturing environments.

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