[ARCHIVE] Learning is Change

Gemba Walk

Gemba is rarely found at an executive desk. Instead, you'll find it on the shop floor. Or in the marketing department. Or at a customer's place of business.

Gemba. Mention it outside lean manufacturing circles, and you're likely to draw a blank stare.

So, what is gemba? In short, it's the place that matters most. It could be a crime scene: In Poe's The Tell-tale Heart, gemba is that heart thumping under the floorboards. In sports, it's wherever the ball is. In business, it's the place where real value is created, the place where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. In other words, gemba is the beating heart of your organization.

And as a manager, owner, or CEO, it's where you should be, at least some of the time.

Walking the Gemba Walk

Gemba is rarely found at an executive desk. Instead, you'll find it on the shop floor. Or in the marketing department. Or at a customer's place of business.

Wherever gemba is, go there. In lean manufacturing, this is called the gemba walk. It's the best way to see, firsthand and unmediated, what works and doesn't. It's the best way to get the information you need to make the best possible decisions – usually in the most efficient possible manner.

Think about The Tell-tale Heart. Did the police officers sit at their desks, mentally working out the cause of the shriek heard in the dead of night? No; they did their footwork. They got up, went out, and found the gemba. They asked questions. They learned. And they got what they were after.

There are three essential elements to the Gemba Walk and they are:

Go See: (get to the Gemba)

  • Is the purpose aligned with the overall change?
  • Is the process designed to achieve the purpose?
  • Are people engaged to achieve the purpose and are they supported by the process?

Ask Why: (how we understand the technical or process side)

  • Opportunity – look for symptoms rather than prescribing solutions.
  • Waste – eliminate redundancies, overproduction, and others of the eight wastes.
  • Problem – confirm what we are trying to achieve and why can’t we?
  • Kaizen – seek patterns, forms, tools and routines

Show Respect: (engage the “Hearts and Minds” of the people doing the work)

  • Respect people
  • Rely on people
  • Develop People
  • Challenge People

Some resources that will help you dive deeper into these concepts are:

  • Gemba Walks by Jim Womack
  • The Lean Enterprise Institute

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

on Jan 9, 2014

Everyone needs to remember WHERE the Gemba is, and this is a great reminder of how to get the results you want. The only thing I'd ask everyone to consider is whether you need to WALK or whether you now have information systems that tell you what's happening - and that can help ensure the alignment and process are on target with purpose. And increasingly, analytics can support the people and allow people to feel confident as you rely on them. Lean leaders do use sophisticated IT in the gemba, thsoe critical aspects of their operation, where it matters. People use those. It must be both for most gemba situations - IT and people!

on Jan 13, 2014

From my experience, Gemba can be, and frequently is, a moving locale. Akin the old adage of a person looking for their keys in the hallway because the light is better than where he lost them, the concept of Gemba is most effective with first person observation (the As-Is condition). A business floor can have multiple mini-Gemba areas, some more pressing than the others. Frankly, the only IT data I believe is when I see IT!

on Jan 15, 2014

I'm with "OldGuy" 100% on this. I have found IT and other data to be a poor method of communication. It's like a baby crying. It lets you know there may be a situation, but it takes direct contact and 'being there' to find out what's really happening.

on Jan 16, 2014

Gemba is for the mid to higher managers mainly. The office people need to get out and see what, why, where, who and when things are being done. This way they can find out what needs to be changed so they can get personnel trained, buy or fix equipment, see unnecessary steps that were put into place because one person goofed and someone on top imposed a policy on a knee-jerk CYA action. Some of the best managers are those that see people for who they are and can be if given the right tools and freedom and to know those people who just don't care and move them out of the way, "Glory Boys" who are out only for themselves.

on Jan 20, 2014

Excellent points all. Harnessing data can certainly increase the focus and impact of the limited time leaders have to walk the Gemba. But walk they must. For in spite of the power of data there are many nuances and factors that impact the data that the leader must see, insights from operators leaders must hear.
Thanks for the comments.

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Bill Wilder

Bill Wilder, MEd, is the founder and director of the Life Cycle Institute, the learning, leadership and change management practice at Life Cycle Engineering (www.LCE.com). The Institute integrates...
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