Manufacturers committed to continuous improvement often include the Gemba walk as part of their lean manufacturing toolkit. Gemba is a Japanese word referring to the place where work gets done, so a Gemba walk is a visit to the factory floor. These visits can spur improvement, but only if planned and executed systematically.
A Gemba walk checklist helps maximize the value of these walks. It keeps the team on track and ensures that management asks the right questions to avoid missing areas of improvement. In this blog, we’ll discuss nine of the most important questions to keep in mind during a Gemba walk. Let’s begin by exploring what a Gemba walk is, its importance, and how to get it done.
What Is a Gemba Walk?
A Gemba walk is a visit to a particular part of a manufacturing facility. The objective is for managers to see firsthand how things are running. This is a much better problem-solving technique than brainstorming behind a desk for several reasons:
- What’s defined in procedures and work instructions may not reflect what actually happens.
- Workers may struggle with problems caused by the procedures and work instructions. For instance, the layout may hinder quick work or they may lack appropriate tools or other equipment.
- It’s easier to explain problems while in standing in the relevant area rather than in a meeting room, where talking without a reference point might lead to misunderstandings.
So what's the difference between a Gemba walk and “management by walking around”? A Gemba walk is a visit to a specific place in the factory rather than a general walkthrough. In addition, Gemba walks require leaders to ask questions about what they see to better understand operations and identify opportunities for corrective action.
What Is the Main Objective of a Gemba Walk?
As mentioned above, the primary purpose of a Gemba walk is to identify very specific improvement opportunities. As such, it complements other lean manufacturing techniques, which focus on reducing waste and improving efficiency in a process. Success depends on treating it as a process rather than an irregular checkup that management performs when they have time. With the right planning, the Gemba walk is a great way to launch effective changes that reduce waste and improve throughput and quality.
Another objective of a Gemba walk is to improve communication and collaboration with employees on the production floor. When team members see leaders taking a genuine interest in the day-to-day problems, they are more inclined to support continuous improvement initiatives. That's a win-win for the whole facility.
It's important to note that Gemba walks focus on gathering information about what’s happening at a particular point in the production process. The Gemba walk should not be about issuing instructions or reprimands for not following documented work processes. Managers should be sure to show respect to those working on the factory floor.
At the end, having observed processes and asked questions, the Gemba walk team should take time to reflect on the new information. Only then can they analyze and formulate ideas to improve manufacturing and business processes.
Why Are Gemba Walks Important?
We know what you're thinking: This just seems like too big of an ordeal to plan and enact regularly. However, if you're committed to ramping up productivity and slashing inefficiencies, the Gemba walk should be a part of that commitment.
Businesses committed to lean manufacturing engage in a never-ending effort to eliminate waste in all its forms. This continuous improvement (aka kaizen) process is no easy feat, but Gemba walks are a rewarding way to move forward toward process improvement and greater workspace efficiency.
Gemba Walk Checklist Defined
A Gemba Walk checklist is a tool that outlines the key elements to be observed and documented during a Gemba Walk. It is a structured approach to conducting a Gemba Walk that ensures that you cover all necessary areas and ask the right questions. The checklist typically includes a list of objectives, such as identifying process improvements or safety hazards, as well as specific areas to observe, such as workstations, equipment, and inventory.
Why Should You Write a Gemba Walk Checklist?
Creating a Gemba walk checklist can be a valuable tool to ensure that you are conducting effective and efficient Gemba walks. A checklist allows you to plan and prepare for your Gemba walks by outlining the objectives, identifying key areas to observe, and ensuring that you are asking the right questions. It also helps you to stay focused during the walk and to document your observations and findings in a structured manner.
By having a checklist, you can ensure that your Gemba Walks are consistent and thorough, which can lead to better insights, improvements, and overall success in your continuous improvement efforts.
Examples of Gemba Walk Templates
Here are just a few examples that illustrate the types of problems a Gemba walk can address:
- Long changeovers at a bottleneck. Asking the right questions will lead the team to a better understanding of the root cause, along with ideas to speed up changeovers.
- Waste material overflowing scrap bins. A process may need constant adjustment to keep it within limits. The Gemba walk will identify a need to involve engineering in improving process capability.
- A pallet of material that’s not in a space designated for such use. Perhaps the material is being pre-staged to speed up a changeover, or has been brought out ahead of time to minimize downtime. The right questions will establish why this was necessary, leading — after reflection — to improvement ideas.
9 Questions To Include in a Gemba Walk Checklist
It’s easy to become immersed in observing workflows and work processes and to forget the real reasons for being there. A Gemba walk checklist keeps the team on task, guides their information collection process, and helps them record observations.
Leaders may start by using a standard template or could develop their own checklist tailored to their goals. The nine questions below provide a great foundation for businesses new to Gemba walks, but your checklist can — and should — be adjusted as needed.
1) What Is the Topic?
To be effective, a Gemba walk should involve more than just looking at what’s going on. It should have a purpose, because this determines the information sought. A Gemba walk intended to increase capacity by addressing a bottleneck will look at different things than one that aims to reduce waste or variation. Be sure to answer this question before Gemba walk team members get into the production area.
2) Does Your Team Have Detailed Instructions?
Standardized work is a cornerstone of lean manufacturing and the focus of this question. Your production employees should have documentation describing how to perform each activity in their area, and how long it should take. This may be in the form of work instructions, diagrams, or videos. If such instructions are missing or incomplete, this gives rise to ambiguity in work processes. This leads to workers performing tasks as they see fit — which may not be the best method.
3) Have You Defined the Challenges?
What do you hope to achieve, and what are the barriers or roadblocks that make this difficult? For example, a manufacturing cell will have target output metrics — but can employees meet them? Perhaps there are delays in material arriving in the cell, or they must stop producing because there’s nowhere to put what’s coming off the machines. Understanding this point provides the context within which the production unit is operating.
4) What Should Happen?
This question asks whether the standard work is correct for the goal or purpose of the production unit. Sometimes steps are missing or outdated, or required tools are not available. Any of these can lead to variation and inconsistency, affecting both quality and output.
Another issue to explore is the action taken when something goes wrong. What happens when a machine breaks down, or when there’s a problem with raw material or output? Are there documented procedures in place to cover these eventualities?
5) What Really Happens?
This involves observing and asking those who work in the area how the real work is done. The intention is to identify problems the workers deal with every day (and therefore may not question or report), along with deviations from the standardized work process.
Micro-stoppages are an example of the type of problem to identify. It’s not uncommon for machinery to need constant adjustment to keep it running, and for brief stoppages to interrupt production. This creates stress for people who deal with these problems every day and affects output and quality.
6) Why Does That Happen?
Having identified problems, it’s important to understand why they occur. It may not be possible to establish the root cause but using a technique like the "five whys" should provide a deeper understanding.
Remember that it’s not the goal of the Gemba walk to implement solutions while the leaders are present (safety issues are the exception to this rule). Rather, the purpose is to observe and gather information for later review.
7) What Is the Objective of This Process?
Identify where the process being observed fits into the value stream and what it intends to achieve. Is it an assembly step, a packing step, or a processing operation? How does it add value, and by extension, are things happening that don’t add value?
8) How Are New Employees Trained on Standard Work?
Every facility faces the departure of experienced team members and the arrival of new ones with no experience. In many businesses, the new arrivals are assigned to shadow experienced team members, but this approach has limitations.
Experienced employees sometimes slip into bad habits or take shortcuts. Passing these non-standard methods along to new team members enshrines them as regular practices and leads to deviations from standard work. Instead, determine how new hires are trained in standardized work processes and ask what measures are in place to ensure that they know — and can follow — these procedures.
9) What Are the Preceding Actions and Following Processes?
Determine the customers and suppliers of the operation being reviewed. Follow-up discussions with both may be needed if it’s determined that they play a part in some of the problems observed on the shop floor.
Optimize Your Gemba Walk Checklist With Amper
Gemba walks are an important lean manufacturing technique for initiating kaizen-style continuous improvement. However, to be effective, a Gemba walk must be planned and conducted with specific objectives in mind. A Gemba walk checklist helps keep this management exercise on track and eliminates the risk of overlooking key issues.
Data is invaluable while reflecting on what you observe on the factory floor. Amper’s production monitoring solutions provide insights into how your equipment and your team perform. This can help management better understand the observations made during Gemba walks and help further pinpoint improvement opportunities.
Learn how Amper contributes to Gemba walk efforts with a personalized demo! Schedule yours today.