What is Gemba?

3 min read

what is gembaGemba, a term first used by Toyota, means going to the real place where the action is. In the 1980s, ‘In Search of Excellence’ author Tom Peters popularized the concept when he talked about management by wandering around (MBWA).

Like MBWA, Gemba walks take management to the front lines to see daily happenings. Gemba, however, is more focused.

Find Where Value Is Created

Gemba refers to “the real place,” the location where value is created in your business. In an industrial environment, that place is often the manufacturing floor where you create the products you sell to your customers. By going to that place and observing work processes, managers can gain new data and a fresh perspective.

In Lean thinking, a Gemba walk allows managers to identify areas of waste that could be eliminated from work processes to improve efficiency. In reality, though, a Gemba walk can reduce waste, improve company culture, and even increase safety in the workplace.

Take a Break from Technology

Why? Because managers spend too much time at their desks reading reports, gazing at smartphones, attending back-to-back meetings, and relying on their inner circle to supply them with information. Think of getting up and walking around as an opportunity for discovery — an eye-opener. You can speak with frontline employers directly and see firsthand how the production line is operating.

Why Is Gemba Important for Businesses?

Organizations are VERTICAL and often complex, with managers looking up toward the top (the CEO) for direction. Employees turn to management for direction. Value flows HORIZONTALLY across organizations to customers. A Gemba walk helps managers see and reconcile the horizontal with the vertical.

What Gemba Is and What It Is Not

Gemba IS NOT…

Management by walking around (MBWA). MBWA is often too unstructured to be of value. It can be ineffective and hurt morale.

Gemba DOES NOT…

Solve specific problems by walking around pointing out negatives, or approach processes with preconceived notions about their inadequacies

Gemba IS…

  • Where the activity is performed
  • A great opportunity to strengthen your team culture

Gemba DOES…

Observe with a deep interest and seek to gain understanding while leaving all assumptions and opinions at the office.

Why Gemba?

  • See firsthand what is happening
  • Help create standard work practices and ensure they are effective
  • Hear from employees about what is important to them and what problems they see
  • Emphasize values, quality, and safety
  • Align departments and teams with the organization’s overall goals
  • Focus on purpose, process, and people

By taking you to “the real place” where the work is performed, a Gemba walk can reveal many things about your business that you might not have otherwise discovered.

Gemba walks allow you to observe any process and they can even be broken down into smaller walks, allowing managers to focus on particular parts of the value-creation process. These walks can help bring inefficiencies and other problems to light that do not add value to the end products you sell to your customers.

Unbiased observation is necessary for a successful Gemba walk and observing in this manner is a skill that is developed over time. New practitioners of the Gemba walk should reflect on their experiences after each walk; with time, they will become even more adept observers.

During your walks, remember to focus on not only the process you’re examining, but also the purpose of the process and the people involved in it. Ask questions, consider activities from all angles, and listen to workers’ own observations about the work being performed.

Although you should make note of problems you see, don’t jump in and try to x them immediately. Doing so can alienate your workers and make them feel like they’re being blamed for a problem. Instead, ask workers for input and then consider what viable solutions to the problems you could implement.

Gemba walks are a lean tool that can ultimately increase value and improve your company’s lean culture. Prepare for your own walk, and then head out into the w

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