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What Is A Gemba Walk? Use It to Get Back To Work

As businesses look to reopen and get employees back to work, there’s a highly effective technique that can help speed up the process — it's called a Gemba Walk.

What is the meaning of Gemba Walk?

It’s a Japanese term that’s part of lean and Six Sigma practices. It means walking through your business and shop floor, taking the time to see how your company operates, how processes are done, and talking in detail with the people and team members who are doing your work.

Think of it as management by walking around.

Who Uses Gemba Walks?

Businesses whose leaders regularly do Gemba Walks find they lead to continuous improvement and aid in lean manufacturing. These walks hold benefits for just about all other industries as well. Gemba Walks are a powerful tool for understanding how your company actually operates, so you can make improvement towards how it’s supposed to operate.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos uses a variant of Gemba Walks when he has new mangers work for a period of time in customer service.Many top executives in many industries see Gemba Walks as a key component of their improvement processes. For example, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has managers work for a while in customer service, a variant of the Gemba Walk. 

What are best practices for Gemba Walks?

Not all Gemba Walks are created equal, though. They need to be performed in the right way. The blog post, “Gemba Walk: Where the Real Work Happens,” recommends that you first prepare your team for them, so they know exactly what will be done, and the benefits of doing them.

A Gemba Walk isn’t the time for evaluating the performance of team members, the post says. It’s not the time to critique people. It’s a time to focus on business processes, not individuals.

The post also recommends that you “be where the value stream is.” It says: “Following the value chain will give you the best opportunities to identify areas with a high potential for waste activities.”

“Record your observations. Don’t make suggestions during the walk.” That’s key because you need to examine what you find before you find solutions to problems," the post says.

“Leave the analysis for later. You will be much more precise after you have all the facts available.”

How often should Gemba Walks happen?

Companies should do Gemba Walks regularly, so current processes can be observed regularly and continually improved.

The article stresses that you should always do a follow up after a Gemba Walk. “Even if you don’t find anything significant during your Gemba walk, you need to share with the team what you have learned or seen,” it recommends. “Otherwise, the team will only have the feeling of being watched. If you are going to take action after the walk, inform the team about the upcoming changes and why they are necessary.”

A Gemba Walk is most effective when accurate notes are taken, such as using this mobile app.How to Improve Your Gemba Walks

In order to get the most out of Gemba Walks, you need to make sure you can capture your observations accurately and clearly. Paper lists are helpful, but they cannot be quickly and easily shared, and sometimes not all information is captured accurately. The best way to do that is with a Gemba Walk mobile app that the manager can use right on his or her smartphone or tablet. That way, as you do the walk, you can record all your observations.

Alpha offers a free Gemba Walk App solution that accelerates your continuous improvement process with real-time data collection, rich media, easy customization, and more. It speeds observations collected during a Gemba Walk, including manager notes, photos, measurements, and more.

Here are just some examples of its Gemba Walk features:

  • Optimized interface for tablets and smartphones
  • Audio recording and voice to text for notes capture
  • Image capture with annotation
  • Offline data capture of data in remote locations, such as warehouses without an Internet connection or cell signal
  • Optimized interface for tablets and smartphones
  • Audio recording and voice to text for notes capture
  • Signature capture
  • Easy to customize - add your own interview questions and measurements to match your Gemba process.

You can get the Gemba Walk app for free from Alpha Software. Also view our other manufacturing solutions.

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About Author

Amy Groden-Morrison
Amy Groden-Morrison

Amy Groden-Morrison has served more than 15 years in marketing communications leadership roles at companies such as TIBCO Software, RSA Security and Ziff-Davis. Most recently she was responsible for developing marketing programs that helped achieve 30%+ annual growth rate for analytics products at a $1Bil, NASDAQ-listed business integration Software Company. Her past accomplishments include establishing the first co-branded technology program with CNN, launching an events company on the NYSE, rebranding a NASDAQ-listed company amid a crisis, and positioning and marketing a Boston-area startup for successful acquisition. Amy currently serves as a Healthbox Accelerator Program Mentor, Marketing Committee Lead for the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge Launch Smart Clinics, and on the organizing team for Boston TechJam. She holds an MBA from Northeastern University.

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