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What is Gemba & How it Can Benefit Your Facility

The word gemba is a Japanese term that is used as part of many industries manufacturing strategies. The term means ‘The Real Place.’ The concept behind a gemba strategy is that supervisors, manager, and others who may be in charge of different areas need to be spending time in ‘the real place’ where the work gets done.

In a manufacturing facility, for example, a supervisor following gemba techniques will want to spend a significant amount of their time actually on the work floor. This will allow him or her to interact directly with employees, see what they do and how they do it. During this time they will be able to discover potential problems, listen to proposed solutions, and much more.

There are a variety of ways to incorporate the ideas behind gemba in most workplaces. Taking the time to learn more about gemba by reading books, articles, and taking training classes is a great way to learn more about the different options within the gemba methodology. The most common option is known as conducting a gemba walk.

Completing a Gemba Walk

As the name would imply, a gemba walk is when a supervisor or other individual walks through the different work areas to get a good understanding of what is going on. This is an excellent opportunity for leaders to take the time to identify safety hazards, learn how different pieces of machinery work, evaluate the conditions of machines, ask questions about processes, and generally learn how things are done.

Gemba walks should produce a great overview of what is going on in the workplace, and offer management great insights into where there may be improvement opportunities. The gemba walk is considered to be one of the 5 lean guiding principles that make up the overall lean management philosophy.

Each facility will have a different standard, but in general, gemba walks should be completed as often as once per day. At a minimum, supervisors should be completing this task several times per week so they are always keeping up with the way things are running on a day to day basis. This will also help to ensure they don’t have any surprises should something go wrong in the workplace.

Gemba Walk Checklist

While getting out to the shop floor is the most important thing about the gemba concept, it can be even more effective if you know what types of things should be watched for. To accomplish this, it is important for supervisors or others to complete a gemba walk checklist.

A checklist should evolve over time based on what types of things a facility needs to look at, and what the goals are. In general, the checklist can include things like the current status of machines, checking employee productivity, spending time at specific areas, and much more. Breaking down the checklist into as many areas as possible can help to gather very detailed information that will be very useful.

Gemba Walk Template

In addition to a gemba walk checklist, many people will use a gemba walk template, which can accomplish the same things. A template may offer additional flexibility to the people doing the walks so that they can get the information they need. In addition, a template typically has more room for documenting the thoughts or concerns of an area, rather than just checking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a checklist.

The following is a simple example of a template. It shows different areas of information that should be documented while going through the gemba walk itself. There is plenty of room for adding additional information or ideas along the way. Depending on the facility and other factors, each area may have its own template to help get the most benefit out of each gemba walk.

Benefits of the Gemba Walk Process

When considering adding gemba concepts to the workplace, it is important to understand the benefits that it can provide. Documenting the benefits of this type of process can also help with implementation because it will let everyone know what it is that they are looking for and how they should conduct the gemba walk.

Review the following benefits of a gemba walk and see how it will fit into specific work environments:

  • First Hand Knowledge – There is simply no substitute for gathering information first hand. When a supervisor takes the time to walk through a work area, they can see what is actually happening rather than relying on others to pass along the information, which is biased in some way.
  • Interact with Employees – Taking the time to interact with employees will help to build a strong relationship, and provide opportunities for learning about what they like and don’t like about specific processes.
  • Build Morale – Working directly with the employees and spending time in their work areas can help show them that the company actually cares how things are going. When done properly, this can lead to improved morale for employees throughout an organization.
  • Improved Facility Safety – By making an effort to get out and really watch what is going on, it will be possible to identify safety concerns before any accidents or injuries occur. This will help to improve the overall facility safety.
  • Standard Processes – When a supervisor is taking the time to really get to know how things are done, they will be better able to standardize processes. This is especially useful when a company is running multiple shifts on the same jobs.
  • Continuous Improvement – When going out each day to monitor the way things are getting done, improvement opportunities will naturally present themselves. Because of this, the gemba process is one of the best options for companies that are looking to maintain continuous improvement in their facilities.

Tips for an Effective Gemba Walk

Performing an effective gemba walk is more than just taking a clipboard with a template on it and walking through the facility. Supervisors should have a good idea of what it is that they want to accomplish during these events so that they aren’t just using it as a time to talk with employees (not that there is anything wrong with that) and not gather the proper information.

The following tips are an excellent place to start when it comes to conducting a proper gemba walk in most facilities:

  • Where to Walk – It isn’t enough to just walk through any work area of the facility. Supervisors should intentionally pick out the locations where they will conduct their walks to get the best information possible. Gemba is the most important location for the team, so when performing walks for the first time, the area where the most work is conducted should be where the most time is spent.
  • Who is Walking – While the direct supervisor over a specific area should be the one conducting the walks most often, it is best if members of all levels of management participate as well. Gemba is most effective when all of the management team participates to the extent that it is possible.
  • When to Conduct the Walk – Choosing the right time for a gemba walk is critical. Finding times when things could go wrong, such as the busiest time of the day, is a great opportunity to find improvement opportunities. Shift turnover times are another good place to start. Ideally, the gemba walk should be conducted unexpectedly, at least some of the time, so employees are performing everything normally.
  • What to Look for – Knowing what to look for is perhaps the most important thing when conducting a gemba walk. Some things are obvious, such as workflow slowdowns, machine maintenance needs, and more. Other items may take a more careful eye. Looking at job processes is a good option since it may be possible to find process improvement opportunities.
  • Taking Notes – Taking notes is an essential part of any gemba walk. These can’t just be general notes about what is seen or done, however. Using a template, take notes on things like what potential improvement opportunities there are, what employees are saying about the jobsite, any thoughts or feelings about a specific area, and more. These notes will be used to begin the improvement process for the facility so it is important to have as much as possible available to review.

These tips will be a good place to start, especially for those who are performing a gemba walk for the first time. As members of management teams get used to performing these walks, they will become like second nature.

Once the gemba walk is completed, it is important to take all the information gathered and compile it in such a way that it can be used to plan and implement effective change. At its heart, gemba is a process improvement and waste elimination process, so what happens after the walk is over is nearly as essential as the walk itself.

Gemba Management

When it comes to gemba management, the leadership teams can be hesitant to adopt the gemba walk process. Many people initially see it as a waste of time to walk through the work areas each day, or on a regular schedule. Many managers have made comments that they have people and reports that can provide them with all this type of information.

Once management teams actually start getting out to the place where work is done, they invariably learn more about the people and processes than they ever thought possible. One of the best things about active gemba management concepts like this is that they have been proven effective by thousands of employers around the world.

There is really no doubt that managers who take the time to perform gemba walks on a regular basis are going to be more effective than those who just sit behind their desk, even if they have an ‘open door policy.’ In fact, managers who perform these types of tasks are more likely to see their employees take advantage of an open door policy since they will have already gotten to know the manager, and feel more comfortable bringing concerns to them.

While there is no doubt that gemba will take some getting used to in most situations, it is well worth the effort. Once management teams are comfortable with the process, they almost always like the insights it is able to provide, and the environment of constant improvement that it fosters.

Gemba Training 

As with any new strategy, it is important to make sure everyone receives the proper training to get the most out of the process. Providing everyone who is on the management team with a good overview of what gemba is, and how it can help the organization, is an important first step.

Some facilities take it a step further by having even the front line employees take some type of training class about gemba. By informing all employees about what gemba is and how it can help the facility, they are going to be more likely to help the process to succeed.

Employees who understand the goals of a supervisor who is on a gemba walk are going to be more likely to point out a potential hazard, a process improvement opportunity, or any number of other things along the way. This will help to ensure everyone in the facility is on the same page and working toward the same goals at all times.

One of the easiest ways to introduce people to gemba, and how it can help to identify and eliminate waste in the workplace, is to request the free ‘Introduction to Gemba’ guide that is offered from Creative Safety Supply. This guide can be given to employees to help them to understand what gemba is, the four steps to using gemba walks successfully, a good example of a gemba walk schedule, and much more.

Once employees have gone through this guide, they will be ready to begin implementing gemba strategies in their own departments right away. There are other training options available that can help to further provide insights into what gemba is, why it is important, and how it will help a given facility.

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