How is Gemba Lean?

Manager on a Gemba walkGemba walks are a Lean management tool that fits in with many other Lean manufacturing concepts.

The focus of a Lean manufacturing system in general is on identifying waste in work processes and eliminating it. That way only things that add value for the customer are performed or included. While a gemba walk can focus on many aspects of processes, it is possible to look for specific types of waste while on a walk.

What are Muda, Mura, and Muri? Introduction to the 3 M’s

Muda is the Japanese term for waste, and there are many types of waste in the workplace. Often, these wastes arise because of unevenness in the way work is performed (called mura) and strain on people or equipment (called muri). By eliminating these 3 M’s “muda, mura, and muri” businesses can improve efficiency.

Consequently, looking for muda, mura, and muri while on a gemba walk can help people start to identify waste and get to the root of potential problem.

What is Muda?

Muda is waste. It includes any kind of unnecessary activity in a process. Often people refer to the 8 wastes of Lean production, and when they do, they’re referring to 8 types of muda:

  • Unnecessary transportation – Moving materials and products more than necessary.
  • Over-production – Making more of a product than necessary.
  • Unnecessary motion – People moving more than necessary to complete a task.
  • Waiting – People or items spending time waiting to begin the next step in a process.
  • Inventory – Having more items or materials on hand than needed. This can lead to things becoming obsolete before they’re used.
  • Over-processing – Work performed in processing that doesn’t add additional value for the customer.
  • Defects – Materials or products wasted because they do not meet quality standards.
  • Unutilized talent – Workers knowledge and skills aren’t being used effectively or in the best way possible.

What is Mura?

Unevenness of work or efforts.

This unevenness can lead to many of the types of muda listed above. Mura occurs because people, materials, or equipment are not used in the most productive fashion. Production might occur in bursts or always be heavier in the morning than the afternoon. When this happens, workers might spend a lot of time waiting around during other parts of the day. Meanwhile, during busy times, people might experience unnecessary stress.

What is Muri?

Efforts that cause strain.

Muri is caused by overburdening people or equipment, which can lead to fatigue, stress, accidents, injuries, breakdowns, and increased defects. This overburden could result from setting unrealistic expectations, requiring a lot of rush orders, or even having poorly designed workstations that lead to ergonomic injuries.

Businesses need to have the right amount of people and machinery handling the correct amount of materials so the appropriate amount of products can be produced. Identifying and reducing any muda, mura, and muri can help achieve this.

The PDCA Cycle

While on a gemba walk, the main objective of the walker is to observe things as they are. That doesn’t mean, though, that changes can’t be made based on observations. The Lean concept of the PDCA cycle which stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act focuses on identifying current standards, looking for ways to improve those standards, and implementing new policies.

Gemba walks can be used to inform the PDCA cycle in a workplace.


The Lean concept of kaizen, often referred to as continuous improvement, is used in many workplaces as a way to involve everyone in the organization in making small changes to the way things are done. In an organization that practices kaizen, people learn to look for small ways to improve work practices and test them out to see if they will work.

Kaizen is a practical way to approach the workplace. It’s also a philosophy and a mindset that becomes part of the way people think about work.

Gemba walks can help facilitate the creation of a workplace where people learn to look for possible improvements, especially when walkers engage with people on the work floor.

The Visual Workplace

Businesses that make instructions visual by posting signs or using 5S organizational methods know that the workplace tends to function better when people can easily see what they need to do. 5S, a systematic approach to organization, stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain, and it focuses on assessing the items present in the workplace, removing things that are unnecessary, ordering everything that remains, and maintaining these standards. 5S uses visual cues such as shadow boards and floor markings to help maintain these processes.

A workplace that uses visual management tools such as 5S can make it easier for business leaders to conduct gemba walks. In this type of workplace, anything out of the ordinary will likely be more apparent because of the visual nature of work processes.

Any changes made as the result of a gemba walk can also take visuals into consideration. It’s possible using visual cues such as instructional signs and labels to describe changes can help make the transition to new procedures easier.

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