Gemba: Full Facts to Make Correct Decisions

A Japanese term meaning “the actual place”, or “the real place.”
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Making business processes run more efficiently is key to better profits but how do you know you are making the correct decisions in implementing changes?  Are you really addressing the problem?

Gemba is a concept developed by the Japanese as a way to gather the full facts about business processes to enable continuous improvement. Using this shop floor technique you can identify the core problems and make better decisions on changes needed.

Base decisions on facts and from knowledge gathered walking and learning from doing the process. Then use this information to empower both people and processes to achieve optimal production efficiency.

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What is Gemba?

Gemba sometimes spelt as Genba (現場, ) is a Japanese term meaning “the actual place”, or "the real place."

However, in business, when used in this context, it relates to “the place where value is created.” The place that is central to business operations where you add value. The concept is about enhancing processes and reducing waste.

Examples of places might include a hospital’s operating room, a restaurant’s kitchen, the shop floor in a manufacturing setting, or a software programmer’s workstation.

Gemba Kaizen

Gemba is an important part of the Kaizen process and Lean manufacturing tools. 

What is Gemba Kaizen? Gemba Kaizen is all about the concept of continuous improvement. The sole purpose is enhancing processes and reducing waste. Both come are terms used in lean methodology and Six Sigma for continuous improvement within the business.

Gemba is more about the location and at the point where value is created, for example, the shop floor. Whereas Kaizen is more about the improvements.

Gemba Kaizen embraces the skills of every team member, inviting insight and contributions and making sure everyone understands even the smallest improvements can add value over time. 

What is a Gemba Walk

Gemba walk is an essential term to understand in this methodology. The principle of this process is walking in the steps of a business process, observing, listening and identifying ways to improve. 

The walk concept was developed by Taiichi Ohno, an executive at Toyota and creator of the Toyota Lean Manufacturing methodology.

What is the purpose of a Gemba walk purpose? Observing where the real work happens. By closely examining “the place where value is created” and walking with and listening to people involved directly in the process. 

Why is the Gemba walk so important? It gives you knowledge about the process and offers insight into additional opportunities for improvement which can dramatically impact the business. 

This management technique started in manufacturing but has now been implemented across many industries. It’s a process that can help managers and project team members. It involves management and support staff breaking away from their usual routine and walking the workplace floor to identify wasteful activities. It is a process commonly practised in Japan and relates to continuous improvement, with the ultimate aim of enhancing processes and reducing waste.

Gemba Walk 7 Step Checklist

Gemba Walk Checklist

Task

Team Leader: What is the purpose of the Gemba walk?

Team Member: What are you working on now? What tasks are you doing now?

Process

Team Leader: Understand the process you are about to observe. Walk with a person involved in the process.

Team Member: Is there a standard established process to complete this task?

Problems

Team Leader: Is there a certain process, time or place you need to observe?

Team Member: Are you encountering problems while completing the task? Is there a problem with the established task process?

Cause

Team Leader: Observe where value is added and where the problem is occurring.

Team Member: Why is there a problem? What is causing the problem?

Root Cause

Team Leader: Observe the process and quality. Understand how the process currently works. Learn by doing.

Team Member: What is the root cause of the problem? How can you identify and find why it is happening?

Fix

Team Leader: Visualise the gap between the current process and the ideal process. Share what you have learnt.

Team Member: How can you fix the problem?

Help

Team Leader: Opportunities for improvement. Who can help improve the process?
Additional support like training or team members needed?

Team Member: Who can help you resolve the problem? Who do you speak to?

Steps to Take to Ensure Your Walk is Successful

If you want your walk to be successful, the following steps will help.

Prepare the Team: The team members you’ll be observing must have a good understanding of a walk, its usefulness, and its purpose.
Have a Plan: Your walk should have a defined purpose. A good tip is to associate with a specific KPI concern.
Follow the Value Stream Mapping: It’s often a good idea to ask your employees to make suggestions regarding shifts, work areas, or processes that might benefit from your walk.
Focus on Processes, Not People: The purpose of a walk is to observe, understand, and eventually improve workplace processes. It is not a tool for evaluating employee performance.
Documentation is Critical: Use a variety of tools to log your observations because you want to remember everything you see. Take a notepad, camera, or voice recorder, for example.
Ask Questions: Remember the 5 W’s: Who, What, Where, When, and Why.
Walk-in Teams: You don’t have to take all your walks alone. Take the opportunity to make it a team endeavour from time to time.
Employee Follow-Up: Even if no immediate action is needed due to your walk, it’s still critical to follow up with your employees. Share with them what you’ve learned and make sure they understand the next steps.

The Benefits of Adopting Gemba Walks

How does Gemba walks help you improve business process and increase productivity and service level?

  • Gathering First Hand Knowledge: Gathering information and facts first hand is priceless. A walkthrough of a work area allows you to see what’s happening in real-time rather than relying on others.
  • Interaction with Employees: Interaction with employees builds strong relationships and provides lots of opportunities to learn more about their likes and dislikes regarding work processes.
  • Improves Morale: Spending time with your employees shows them that you care, which leads to improved morale across your organisation.
  • Improves Facility Safety: When you watch what is going on first hand, you’re better able to identify safety issues before accidents happen.
  • Standardise Processes: Getting to know how things are done means you’ll be better able to standardise processes.
  • Continuous Improvement: Monitoring processes on a daily basis means that opportunities for improvement will present themselves naturally.

Turn Facts into Solutions

Performing an effective walk requires more than merely walking around with a clipboard and filling out a template. You should have an ultimate aim, use your time to talk with employees, get involved and gather the appropriate information.

At its core, is a way to improve processes and eliminate waste. What happens after each walk is equally important. How you put the findings into an effective solution to increase productivity and improved efficiency.

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