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ChangeWise Quick Reads: What is a Gemba Walk?

In this Quick Read, we take a high-level look at the Gemba Walk. We explore where it comes from, what it is, the benefits of using this popular Lean technique, along with some top tips to make sure you get the most out of your Gemba Walk.

Where did the Gemba Walk originate?

Gemba is the Japanese word for ‘actual place’, meaning ‘the place where something happens’. You may have heard news reporters say they are ‘reporting from the Gemba’. In Lean, we use this term to describe the place where the actual work/process occurs.

What is Gemba in Lean Methodology?

Taiichi Ohno, an executive at Toyota, led the development of the concept of the Gemba Walk. The idea is that management teams regularly ‘walk the process’ to directly observe how the work takes place, providing an opportunity to see reality. Managers should ask questions regarding how and why the work takes place, noting any issues or frustrations as they observe.

Remember! It is really important everyone understands Walking the Gemba is not an audit or an assessment, it is an opportunity to allow people carrying out the process to provide their input and influence potential improvements. This methodology seeks to empower your workforce, and encourage a continuous improvement culture with ownership at the process level.

Get out of the office!

What are the benefits of a Gemba Walk?

Taking part in a regular Gemba Walk will identify where you create value in your process:

  • Reports and statistics are not reality – they are an output of the process and will not help to identify where the value exists.
  • Management teams have a tendency to react to ‘rarities’ within a given process. This is resource intensive, expensive, and typically results in overcomplicated processes and systems that will not foster long-term, sustainable improvements.
  • This activity encourages teams to think in terms of value streams (see the ChangeWise Quick Read ‘Value Stream Mapping’), rather than silos which will assist in creating a more customer centric organisation.
  • There is a common tendency to assume mistakes are due to human error. However, this is rarely the cause, errors or ‘failure demand’ are usually a result of poor equipment, processes, workplace layout or management structure.
  • Walking the Gemba helps us to better understand the root cause of issues and their impact on other areas of the process.
  • Gemba Walks often produce instant efficiency and cost benefits through identifying processes that are non-value add and can simply be removed.

Tips for Walking the Gemba

Communication! It is vital that you send effective communication to employees beforehand, this will prevent people from feeling anxious whilst being observed. Employees who feel they are being assessed are also less reluctant to share issues – and this is not an enabler for continuous improvement. Trust is paramount.

Time for a team talk!

  • Follow the process in the order of the product flow. This may involve travelling back and forth to various offices, locations or even suppliers. Make sure you have an agenda with timings. Assign someone as time keeper to ensure you don’t spend too long in one area, forcing you to rush others.
  • Carefully plan who should be involved. Walking the Gemba is commonly a management activity. However, ChangeWise have seen excellent ideas and improvements when the value stream team complete this exercise together. This might involve bringing your suppliers along, or visiting the supplier site to better understand how inputs and outputs of the process impact the value stream.
  • Identify your key customers in advance of your walk; both internal and external, and keep them at the forefront of your mind: ask yourself ‘would the customer be prepared to pay for this?’.
  • Ask questions – lots of them! However, remember to make sure they are constructive and not critical. If you think a process could be improved, or is currently processed incorrectly, save the discussion until the end of the activity.
  • Always ask if there is anything currently making the job difficult. Perhaps employees struggle with system availability, or they spend a long-time gaining sign-off before the next step can be processed? Stay focused on the process – not the people.
  • Take notes! At ChangeWise, we like to prepare a summary checklist for each step so that nothing is missed and ideas are captured for discussion later on. This is a great way to make sure the Gemba team have collectively understood the process, and to gain agreement that you have seen the ‘as is’ and not made assumptions.
  • Discuss as a team after the exercise. We like to visually map the Gemba Walk. This makes sure everyone is on the same page with regards how things work, and you can more easily identify waste in the process.
  • Define your priorities for improvement. It’s a good idea to focus on 4-5 mini projects.
  • Communicate back to the Gemba! Don’t forget to share findings with all involved, including those observed. This will set a strong precedence for future improvements. If possible, invite employees into the war room so they can see the process and feel part of the exercise. This openness will ensure your team embrace a continuous improvement culture.


In Summary

Gemba is the Japanese word for ‘Actual Place’, it involves visiting areas where the actual work takes place in order to observe the process in reality. The goal of Gemba is to see the ‘as is’, allowing you to identify value, minimise costs, call out potential bottlenecks and ensure a smooth flow of work from start to completion. This will enable your workforce to drive a leaner and more agile organisation – building the foundation for continuous improvement.

Interested in learning more about how Gemba could help to improve your organisation? Contact us at

ChangeWise believes employee engagement is the foundation for successful Change. Training and coaching your people to use simple continuous improvement techniques will enable your organisation to continuously adapt and stay ahead in a constantly changing and challenging environment.

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