Taking a Gemba Walk Through Your Facilities

Kaizen. Jidoka. Nagara. A lot of unique terminology is associated with lean manufacturing — all of it important. One term (and action) that’s fundamentally important is Gemba. Performing a Gemba walk through your facilities allows you to see how work gets done. And doing so helps you understand where you could improve operations.

What’s a Gemba walk?

A Gemba walk is a stroll through your factory with the intent on observing work. The term Gemba comes from the Japanese term gembutsu, which means “the real thing.” Loosely applied, a Gemba walk seeks to observe how the real work gets done in your facilities.


Seeing how work gets done allows a factory manager to understand the many principles that go into the work itself. During the Gemba walk you’re encouraged to observe work being done, how it’s done, where it’s done, and how it’s handled within the lean value stream.

What to look for

Because a Gemba walk is about observation, it’s important to approach such a walk with observation in mind. There’s a lot to observe, and practicing good observation takes focus. Concentrate on core elements of lean operations during each Gemba walk you take:

  • Efficiency — How well is a process running, or what’s keeping it from running efficiently?
  • Safety — Do you see any prominent OSHA violations or dangers?
  • Behavior — Do employees seem happy or frustrated? Are they cooperating?
  • Cleanliness — Are your facilities clean and tidy, or do they exhibit disorganization?

Depending on your focus for potential improvement, tailor your Gemba walk to observe variables significant to the problem you’re trying to address.

Preparing for a Gemba walk

A Gemba walk is casual, but it should never be a spur-of-the-moment event. Always plan your walk. This includes:

  • Planning the time and intended duration of the walk
  • Charting a course through the facilities or specific area
  • Performing the walk on a general workday, and not informing employees ahead of time
  • Staggering your walks to observe different things or cover different areas
  • Not making assumptions, merely observations

Notes and observations you record during Gemba walks serve an important purpose: They will eventually become lean initiatives. Your ability to identify problems and classify potential variables during Gemba walks sets the foundation for real problem solving with other lean tools.

What not to do on a Gemba walk

It’s very easy to get off course during a Gemba walk. People want to have conversations, small problems might consume your attention, and you might even get wrapped up in other tasks during your walk. These things will derail a Gemba walk and nullify any learning that might be taking place. Try to stay focused and avoid these major Gemba walk mistakes:

  • Don’t correct mistakes that you see. During your Gemba walk, think of yourself as a ghost. You shouldn’t interfere or remediate issues. Interference could create more problems and potentially disrupt your workflow in new ways.
  • Don’t stand still for too long. Many employees can begin to feel micromanaged by your presence if you stay in one space for more than a minute or two.
  • Don’t socialize if possible. There’s a time to walk the floor as a manager and a time to walk for the purpose of observation. Your Gemba walk should focus on observation explicitly.

When executed appropriately and routinely, the Gemba walk is a lean concept with the power to identify areas of improvement and future lean action. Follow these tips to conduct a Gemba walk with purpose and reap the benefit of this fundamentally important lean tool.

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