Literally translated, the Japanese term gemba means “the actual place”. In a Lean business, leaders (such as executives or managers) go to gemba to see the work that is being done. This actual place is the assembly line, the warehouse, the sales office, or any other location where value is created in a business. This visit to gemba is often referred to as a “gemba walk” or genchi genbutsu, which means “go and see.”
Company leaders often perform gemba walks regularly — as often as weekly, or even daily in some cases — but it’s possible for anyone in an organization to go and see what’s actually going on. While on a walk, people observe the actual place, the actual product, and the actual processes that create a finished product.
As information-gathering missions, there’s no wrong way to take a gemba walk. Gemba walks can follow a regular schedule or they may be conducted as needed. They can be used to locate specific procedural problems, identify waste, or ensure equipment is running well — or, a single gemba walk can accomplish all of these tasks! The only wrong way to perform a gemba walk is to not do the walk at all, and instead rely on assumptions about how processes do or do not work.
While on a gemba walk, the walker should be sure to seek input from people directly involved in the process being observed. Try to avoid jumping to conclusions, and instead focus on simple information gathering. Analysis of how improvements might be made will come later.
During a gemba walk, it’s helpful to consider the following questions:
- Are protocols being followed?
- Is standard work clear?
- What’s working well?
- Which activities add/don’t add value?
- Is the process consistent?
- Is equipment running well?
- Is housekeeping a problem?
- Do workers need additional training?
- Does the layout of the workstation make sense?
- Are there any safety issues?