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Corey Brown


Gemba Walking: Tips for Digital Transformation

How to solve the right problems

Published: Wednesday, June 8, 2022 - 12:02

Gemba walks are an essential tool to understand the challenges of your manufacturing frontline. Each manufacturing facility is unique. The best way to solve your operational challenges is to perform a gemba walk focused on specific goals.

This article will outline the fundamentals of a gemba walk and teach you how to tailor it to solve frontline challenges.

What is a gemba walk?

Initially developed by Taiichi Ohno, founder of the Toyota Production System, the basic concept of a gemba walk is to get firsthand experience of the processes you are trying to improve. Ohno believed that management should actively visit and observe operations to identify waste and find opportunities for improvement.

Gemba walk vs. audit
While an audit and gemba walk may look similar in action, they have entirely different intentions. Audits check against compliance standards and take stock—they look for mistakes.

A gemba walk observes processes to identify waste and improvements.

The focus on process improvement is essential because waste is not seen as a way to place blame. Waste is an opportunity to change processes for the better.

Benefits of a gemba walk

Practicing a regular gemba walk will support worker performance, improve processes, and keep leaders in tune with the reality of daily work.

These walks are a way to gain fresh insight and promote respect between frontline employees and leadership.

Better decision-making
A gemba walk identifies actions that management needs to take to support the organization’s progress. This begins with observing the problems in their current condition.

Observations also reveal how well people understand their work and what opportunities have already been identified. From there, leaders can make decisions from a more informed and accurate perspective.

Fosters collaboration and new ideas
A gemba walk allows leaders to see the reality of how the organization is working cross-functionally. On the other side, frontline workers see that leaders are taking the time to learn about their work and understand their perspectives.

It’s a win-win.

Leaders practice critical thinking about their people while gaining valuable insight into how the organization executes its mission on the front line.

Promotes continuous improvement culture
Visiting the factory floor is an opportunity to recognize and reinforce quality work and improvements taking place.

Continuous improvement culture is a habit that must be practiced consistently. A gemba walk encourages your workforce to think about improvements regularly by showing that you’re dedicated to getting better.

How to perform an effective gemba walk

Define your purpose
A gemba walk serves many functions, from day-to-day management to larger continuous improvement projects. Give your gemba walk a defined purpose. Without this scoping, the results of your gemba walk will be disjointed and unclear.

“One key point to remember: Don’t try to do too much on a gemba walk! It is just one walk; you are unlikely to change the world with one stroll.”
—Michael Bremer, How to Do a Gemba Walk

Observe the right processes
Follow the value stream. Focus on processes with a high potential to reduce waste. This will allow you to succeed with your gemba walk early on.

Once you identify the right processes to focus on, schedule multiple gemba walks with different lines, shifts, or locations. Gather multiple data points to see how challenges may shift due to various circumstances.

Communicate your intentions
A gemba walk should be planned in advance. This isn’t intended to be a casual observation or walk through the factory floor. Inform workers about precisely which stations or lines you plan to observe.

This is your chance to put their worries at ease. Let them know you are there to support them, not blame them. Inform workers that you are there to observe the daily processes in their natural state—no special cleanup or presentation is necessary.

Be objective
Those performing the gemba walk should try and remain as objective as possible. Focus on things at a process level and avoid blaming anyone. Demonstrate respect for every person at every level during the gemba walk.

Don’t suggest changes during the gemba walk, either—those come later. Take note of any inefficiencies or areas of waste, and only discuss changes during the process if a worker has a suggestion.

Prepare questions in advance
After you define your scope and goals for your gemba walk, outline the conversation with questions. Prepare standard questions and even follow-up questions to guide your observation and understanding.

This will help keep the result of your gemba walk focused and valuable. You don’t need to follow a script. Use your own words and add or replace questions as needed.

Document your observations
Log your observations and record additional findings. Take note of topics such as areas of waste, improvement ideas from employees, and any new challenges or opportunities you’ve learned about.

Gemba walk for digital transformation
It’s time to understand the needs of frontline employees and how digital tools can empower them to perform at their best.

After all, 97 percent of digital transformations fail when they don’t involve frontline operators and line managers.

If you can’t align digital projects with the needs of the frontline workforce, improvements will not stick. Use gemba walks to understand frontline manufacturing needs and solve for the right problems.

First published on the Dozuki blog.


About The Author

Corey Brown’s picture

Corey Brown

Corey Brown is the lead researcher and editor for manufacturing resources on Dozuki.com. With a background in engineering and technical communication, Corey specializes in quality management, standard work, and lean manufacturing.