Gemba Walk. Watch, Listen, Ask and Learn

One of the main lean activities to introduce in our daily work is the Gemba walk through, an attitude to know more about the place of action, where the work is carried out.

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One of the main lean activities to introduce in our daily work is the Gemba walk through, an attitude to know more about the place of action, where the work is carried out.

“It is where from direct observation solutions and ideas for improvement can be proposed.”

Gemba Walks

The word Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “place of work, the real place where things happen”, and when we say that we go to the Gemba we indicate the action of going to observe the process, understand the way it is developing the work, asking questions and learning to continuously improve the processes. We must do it every time we face a problem, but also as a routine. Throughout the years we have met many directors who start their journey with “the walk” or celebrate a weekly “traveling meeting”.

“The walk through the Gemba is a fundamental part of the Lean philosophy that has as main objective to know the process, observe and verify what is happening; It is something that each leader should practice periodically to promote a culture of continuous improvement.”

The Gemba Walk is a concept that was developed by Taiichi Ohno, Parent of the Toyota Production System, who spent a lot of time in the production plant observing what was really happening. One of the many stories that are told about him is that he always carried a piece of chalk in his pocket when he made his rounds around the factory and when he found a supervisor who could not understand why his machine was working incorrectly, he drew a circle on the ground and it made him stay ahead until he understood the root cause of the problem. Many people call it the Ohno Circle.
Its objective was to teach workers to observe directly from the workplace (Genchi Genbutsu).

A walk through the Gemba has three fundamental principles:

Go to the “battlefield”

Go down to Gemba, the place where things happen, to see how the process works and find out what the conditions are right for things to be done.

Ask questions

Talk to people, those who best know the process, and ask “what are you doing?” “Why do you do it like that?” in order to understand what is really happening. Through this “almost childish” curiosity, we can reach the root cause, understand the process and look for solutions.

Show respect

Respect the abilities and efforts of the people who carry out the work and who create value within the organization. According to Jim Womack, in his work Gemba Walks, the best way to show respect is to include employees and those responsible for the processes in problem-solving actions so that they can take part in improving their own work. This increases the involvement, the acceptance of the solution and the sustainability of the solution.

When problems arise in the work areas, the first thing we usually do is meet in a comfortable room, propose solutions, prepare plans and almost never take the trouble to go to the workplace and observe what is happening. A proper observation is an essential source of information that helps us understand what happens, if things remain the same or if they are changing. We have to assume observation as a habit to practice consistently and systematically.

Gemba Walk is a deep immersion in the organization. It allows us to identify activities and processes that do not add value: identify bottlenecks, sources of waste, deficiencies in processes and unsafe or inappropriate conditions. It helps us understand work, processes, dynamics and identify opportunities.

The most important point is the relationship that allows to build between a leader and his collaborators, the possibility of talking and involving the workers in the generation of innovative ideas and improvement.

Taiichi Ohno said, referring to the managers, that each year had to consume two pairs of shoes walking the Gemba.

And finally the task to turn this activity into a habit will have two parts:

  1. Go to the place where things happen, the Gemba, and put yourself in the circle of Ohno (you do not have to draw it or many will believe you’ve lost your mind). Spend time, many minutes, almost hours, to understand what is happening. Ask “what happens?” And “why?” As many times as necessary. Get closer to people and be interested in how they work and their problems. Look, listen, touch, use all the senses to understand the Gemba. Do not leave the circle until you have thoroughly understood at least one aspect of the Gemba you have visited.
  2. Establish a plan of “walks” by the Gemba. Structure what you will look at each ride. Check indicators. Define and pursue tasks. And make it a routine.

Hope this post has been interesting for you and looking forward to your comments and experiences!