What is a Gemba Walk?

A "Gemba Walk" is a walk to the "scene of the action" that allows, for example, management to get a realistic and true-to-life impression of work at the operational level. 

        "Gemba Walk" or: "Go and see" instead of "Sit and wish".

        The mysterious-sounding word "gemba" comes from Japanese and means something like "the true place. A "true place" is a location that is the focus of an activity or observation. For a police officer, for example, this can be a crime scene, or for a journalist, the place where his story takes place. . In a Lean context, "true places" are the places where work takes place, i.e., where value is created. The following text explains the meaning of Gemba in a Lean environment.

        Taiichi Ohno and the chalk circle. 

        Gemba Walk is important for management to better understand the operations and challenges of their own organization: Instead of relying purely on reports, even across multiple levels if necessary, you look at the situation yourself on the ground. 

        An anecdote from Taiichi Ohno (inventor of the Toyota Production System and thus father of Lean Thinking): He took each and every manager he hired to the production floor on the first day, drew a circle of chalk on the floor, and told the manager to stand in it and observe the processes throughout the day. The manager was expected to stay in the circle until – based on her/his observations – she/he found suggestions for improvement found suggestions for improvement based on his observations.

        Experience the Gemba Walk. 

        "Gemba Walk", often equated with "Go and See", means: I go to various places where people are working and – through observation and questioning – experience the current state there, live and with all my senses. This gives me a better understanding of the processes and the requirements of that workplace and thus replace my assumptions about process steps from lifeless process documentation with real-life experiences and facts gathered on site. This allows me to better support the processes because I better understand the person doing the work and their situation. So, the main goal of the Gemba Walk can be derived as: Identify opportunities for Continuous Improvement and ensure that these are implemented afterwards. Gemba Walks are workplace inspections with the goal of identifying opportunities for improvement in order to increase productivity through their implementation.

        Who actually does Gemba Walks and why?

        Gemba Walks are part of the Lean Production Process. Originally, they were introduced to help management understand conditions on the shop floor and thus provide a more reliable basis for improvement. So to speak: "Go and see" instead of "Sit and wish". Gemba Walks are also suitable for colleagues from different departments to conduct them together as a group, such that many perspectives are collected and a broader understanding is achieved.

        Gemba Walks can offer surprises.

        In principle, however, Gemba Walks are useful for all those who develop or deliver products or services. For example, an on-site inspection and survey can also be an eye-opener for agile teams. It can be surprising for a team to see that their implementation of a program screen has perfectly fulfilled the given requirements, but is a pain for the users because it automatically opens another window and thus disrupts the user’s workflow. Another problem could be that the code assumed certain screen sizes, but that, in reality, other screen sizes are needed and this causes problems for the users. Gemba Walks have a firm place in the lean-agile environment.

        Gemba Walks also exist in SAFe®.

        For example, the scaled agile SAFe© framework provides for  Product Team Gemba Walks to learn how stakeholders do work within their operational value streams. The aim is to be able to better support this way of working through better understanding.

        What a Gemba Walk is and what it is not.

        The purpose of the Gemba Walk is to observe and investigate real work processes in a real work environment in order to gain knowledge and define appropriate improvements.

        However, the following topics are definitely not aims of a Gemba Walk:

        • Control of employees

        • Performance appraisals

        • Blaming Sessions

        • Ad hoc changes to processes

        • Auditing (review of work with regard to process conformity)

        What is the role of the employees in this process?

        Employees should behave normally during the Gemba Walk. If employees behave differently, e.g. in an unusually "compliant" or "exemplary" manner, this is counterproductive. This would cause observations made on-site to not correspond to the "real world"; leading decisions to be made on the basis of incorrect data, and thus reducing the effectiveness of any measures derived. For this reason, it is extremely important to inform employees who will be visited in advance about the Gemba Walk, its objective and what is expected of them.

        What is also important.

        • Be realistic. 

          Gemba Walks only make a difference if measures are derived and if these are also implemented and progress is tracked (PDCA). For this reason, Gemba Walks should be performed regularly.

          And: I should know beforehand what it is that I want to better understand through the Gemba Walk.

        • Gemba Walk is not the same as Management by Walking Around (MBWA)While MBWA is about fostering a good dialogue between employees and management by "walking around", Gemba Walk focuses on a question or topic and should be prepared accordingly.

        • Educate the people whose workplace is being visited in advance. 

          It must be clear to the employees who are visited what is at stake and what is not. 

          - Also, that their help and expertise is needed and why it is important that they do everything as they always do during the visit should be understood by them. 

        • Interview the people who do the work and avoid judgment. 

          Respect people and their work.

        • Document observations. 

          In order to be able to put things into the right context afterwards, it is advisable to document observations and information directly on site. In addition to notes, photos and videos are also useful here, depending on the context.

        • Involve the people who do the work in the implementation of the improvement measures. 

          After successful implementation, check with the employees on site to see what changes the measures have brought about so far before... moving on to the "next round".

        Want to learn more about the Gemba Walk? Get in touch with us.

        Contact us or make an appointment directly. We are Timo Foegen, Yvonne Fischer, Tina Eisoldt, Daniel Votta and Lutz Koch and are happy to answer your questions. We look forward to your call.


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        64293 Darmstadt


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