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Taking a Gemba walk through your workplace can save you money and increase your productivity.

What’s Gemba?

Gemba comes from the Japanese word “genba.” In Japanese, genba translates to “the real place.”

As “genba” has morphed into “gemba,” its meaning has changed a bit and in business a gemba denotes a place of value or where value is created.

For example, in a factory, the gemba is the plant floor; at a construction site, the gemba would be the building being constructed; and in an emergency room, the gemba would be the triage area and treatment rooms for patients.

How can a gemba walk help my business

The idea of taking a gemba walk through a workplace started with a Toyota executive, Tailichi Ohno. While he called it a “genba” walk, today’s gemba walk is the same thing: An opportunity for leaders and employees to observe machinery, processes and protocols in action on plant floors and look for value and inefficiencies. Ohno believed that if management went out and looked on the actual plant floor, asked questions and fully understood the processes and engineering functions being used, problems could be easily solved in the most efficient manner.

Here’s an example of how it could work: A manager conducting a gemba walk observes that because multiple people are using a pallet-jack and not putting it back in a central location, time is being wasted as employees are having to stop the flow of inventory distribution to go track down a pallet-jack. This could lead a manager to designate a marked area to store pallet-jacks and even purchase more tools if needed.

Jim Womack, management expert and author of “Gemba Walks” says gemba walks are a great way for management to understand the root causes of inefficiencies and correct them. “Let’s stop analyzing numerous bits of data on our computer screens. Let’s put on hold heated discussions about the best way to solve a problem from conference rooms,” Womble says in his book. “Instead, let’s go to the gemba and SEE what’s going on there.”

Some tips to consider for an effective gemba walk:

  • Let employees know what’s going on before you gemba walk. Let them know the purpose of the walk and observation period is not to catch them doing something wrong. Let them know the purpose is to help them be more efficient – to aid them in doing their job.
  • Observe and ask questions. Don’t just talk to floor managers, talk to employees working the lines. Don’t take the word of the floor manager of how it works, see it for yourself.
  • If you observe a process that doesn’t seem to be happening in an efficient manner, ask questions. What disrupts the work? Where was the mistake made? Is it a human mistake? A mechanical mistake? Does the problem start where you see it manifest, or does it start earlier in the process? Ask many questions and observe.
  • After the gemba walk, creating a plan of action is necessary to solve the problem. Now that you’ve observed the inefficiency, management and employees can discuss ways to improve the work flow.