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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gemba Walks: Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect, and Follow Up

My friend and blogger Tom Southworth recently delivered a short presentation on Gemba Walks.  Tom presented this lesson as part of CONNSTEP's "10 Minutes: 5 New Ideas" series.
In just 10 minutes, learn the vital steps needed to ensure your gemba walk is a successful one. You'll learn the reasons why this is a necessary function and what you should be looking for when visiting the real or actual place.
The purpose of Gemba walks is to fully understand the current state with facts.
The word 'gemba' is a Japanese word that means the real or actual place. The purpose of walking the 'actual place' or 'gemba' is help identify problems, non-value added activities, or wastes through a deliberate observation of a particular area or process. 
Gemba walks are not to be confused with management by walking around (MBWA). It is really the check in our PDCA methodology of continuous improvement.
All too often, attempts are made to solve problems without knowing anything about or are not being familiar with a particular area or process -- resulting in a misdiagnosis or failed solution. Answers come from the floor, from the 'gemba,' where the condition occurs. You need to go to the real place and experience these conditions for yourself before being able to take the next steps.
Tom says Gemba Walks can be summarized by:
  • Go to the actual place.
  • Get the facts about the actual thing or activity.
  • Grasp the entire situation.
  • Generate reasons that explain what is happening.
  • Guide corrective actions or countermeasures.

Remember to Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect, and Follow Up.

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  1. Tim, Tom

    Thanks for highlighting this.
    I thought I should highlight a similar post on Harvard Business Review. This time they talk about getting feedback from front line employees, http://blogs.hbr.org/tjan/2012/04/listen-to-your-frontline-emplo.html.

    I took the opportunity to put two reasons why asking questions may not be the whole answer.

    Conducting such questions in the right place, as per Gemba is very important.

    In summary, Why is the place (of questioning) important?

    1) Working with staff in their day to day environment means they are on “home ground”. Take them into a room for a chat and you can’t be sure of the history of that room. Has it been used for disciplinary hearings, interviews, the latest management bust-up etc,

    2) Take someone away from their “home ground” and ask them what they do. They tend to focus on the job responsibilities and activities – the technical job. Being with them means you can see all the non-technical work and issues they face.

    I find that this part of watching, asking, observing in the workplace is often the most alien one to many managers and staff. They assume that any such work should be done under interview style conditions.

    Once they see the information and insights it delivers they often change though.


    1. Mark, Thanks for sharing this article. Very good points. The importance of the gemba can not be understated. When you take people out of their comfort zone you can affect their confidence. Go to them and you will likely win support. It is another way to lead by example.