The Gemba Walk


Who, What, When, Where, Why and How

Gemba means “the real place”. I like to think of it as where the action is. The effective use of Gemba supports the “go see” principle.

The Gemba walk affords company leaders, managers and supervisors a simple, easy means of supporting overall continuous improvement and process standardization while helping to insure alignment of the efforts of all teams.

Let’s discuss the who, what, when, where and why’s of gemba

  • Who – Company leaders, managers and supervisors
  • Where – Begin at the last step of your value stream in your facility, then walk upstream through the process. This is a simple means of noticing key issues such as”pull” and “flow” and real priorities (or lack there of). We recommend one issue (two as a maximum) to maintain focus and alignment supporting stability and continuous improvement.
  • When – Everyday, to once per month depending on the “who” and “what”. Leaders may only need to gemba walk once per month, however, if you’re new to lean or there are significant problems the frequency needs to increase.
  • What – Your focus, if your company is just beginning lean, could be perhaps 5S, zone stability, quality, downtime etc; if you are more experienced you’ll likely focus on major problems, “red indicators” on your A3 report. It’s important to have a clear and obvious focus, don’t look for everything or you’ll likely accomplish nothing and confuse everyone as to priorities and overall alignment.
  • Why – If done regularly, with clear and obvious stated intentions it will consistently demonstrate commitment, alignment and support of the continuous improvement process.

In “Kaikaku, The Power & Magic of Lean” Norman Bodek writes the significance of noticing posted measures & charts and asking:

  • Who is responsible for updating them?
  • Do the employees look at the charts? How often?
  • What value do the charts have for employees?
  • Do customers ever look at the charts? Do suppliers?
  • Do you think the charts have an overall effect on operations?

In addition, Bodek offers the following:

The power of gemba lies in:

  • Selecting a theme for each walk
  • Questioning the supervisors about observed conditions
  • Listening attentively – a learning experience for all leaders, managers and supervisors.
  • Sharing what you learned during the gemba walk
  • Writing and posting a brief memo publicly sharing what you learned
  • Following up – monitoring the process

How do you get started? Some suggestions:

Leaders – talk with your lean champion(s) to determine the focus of your walk. Be certain to understand what is expected, when it’s correct and when it’s incorrect. Be noticed noticing.

Managers – Support your supervisors and lead people. Remember, “it’s the process” Toyata is kind to people but tough on the process.

Supervisors – you are likely very busy stabilizing and controlling your “zone”. Ask your manager and company leaders for help by being noticed noticing those areas you are stabilizing.

Like any new process, initially gemba walks may be confusing, time consuming and difficult to perform. Plan>Do>Check>Adjust…..don’t give up, stay focused and it will work for you and your company. Perhaps this information will help to reduce those problems and quickly make Gemba walks a critical and effective tool for your lean conversion.


  1. Jim Reisdorfer

    I think that the topic is right on target … the audio was smooth & well paced

    I have forwarded the MP3 several individuals in the organization

    I found this page in a Google search and I intend to visit the Lean Thinking Network website

  2. Michelle Treangen

    I was wondering what Gemba really meant we are currently doing mini Kaizen events and we have started our Gemba walks. Thanks for clearing this up for me.

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