Parsable Blog

Gemba Walk: How to Drive Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing With Connected Work

Anisha Padamshi


What Is a Gemba Walk?

“Gemba” is a Japanese term that means “the real place.” In manufacturing, it’s where work takes place – on the manufacturing shop floor. It’s part of the Lean management philosophy and was a concept developed by Taiichi Ohno – the father of the Toyota Production System, which inspired Lean Manufacturing in the U.S.. 

A Gemba walk is a tour of the shop floor. It allows plant managers and leaders to observe the actual work processes, engage with employees, ask questions, gather information and feedback about how work is executed. It’s a practice that allows managers to connect with their frontline workers, to identify waste and ultimately explore how to drive continuous improvement.

Why Are Gemba Walks Important?

The idea behind Gemba walks is that it allows managers and executives to leave their desk and lean into where the actual work takes place. It’s an opportunity to explore the value stream and uncover potential problems through collaboration and communication. Using a technique like the 5 Whys can help you dig deeper and uncover more value. 

Remember, a Gemba walks isn’t about finding faults or pointing fingers – that’s exactly what you don’t want to be do. As a manager, your primary objective is to collaborate with your team and find problems together. Focus on finding weak spots in work operations, not your people. 

7 Steps for an Effective Gemba Walk

In order to get the most out of your Gemba walk, you’ll want to have a plan in place before you begin. Here are seven steps to help set you up for success.

  1. Choose a theme for your walk – The first step is identifying what is main purpose of the Gemba walk? This will help keep you focused and narrow down your scope. There are many different themes to explore, for example, safety, productivity, innovation or workspace efficiency to name a few. Once you’ve identified the theme, you can now start building out the list of questions to ask along the way.
  2. Prepare the team – You don’t want to spring this on your team, instead you’ll want to give them a heads up. Let the team know in advance, what is a Gemba walk, what can they expect and what’s the purpose of it? This way they’ll feel comfortable about it and more willing to collaborate. Don’t forget to communicate that the ultimate goal is continuous improvement.
  3. Focus on the process – Remember this isn’t an evaluation of your team’s performance. The purpose is to observe, ask questions, and gather information that will feed back into improving processes. You’re here to identify barriers, waste and inefficiencies on the shop floor hindering productivity.
  4. Focus on the value stream – Identify the value your company produces and be sure to focus on the whole value stream. It’s a good idea to jot down your questions ahead of time to ensure you don’t miss any work or operational processes. By focusing on the value chain you can identify bottlenecks, tasks that aren’t distributed optimally or activities that cause waste. Eliminating these activities will help improve your performance.
  5. Record your observations – Record as much information as possible as you carry out your Gemba walk. Take photos, videos or take down notes easily using connected worker solutions on your mobile device or tablet. It might be tempting to make recommendations or come up with solutions on the spot, but leave the analysis for later. 
  6. Get a second point of view – After you’ve compiled all of your information it can’t hurt to share it with a colleague, someone with a fresh set of eyes that’s removed from the process. Getting a second opinion can help identify any gaps, uncover any missed opportunities or simply give you a different perspective.   
  7. Follow up with the team – Don’t forget to follow up and share your findings with the team. Remember this is a collaborative effort and the last thing you want is for your team to feel like they’re being watched. Include them throughout the process. Share what you learned, including issues or gaps and the immediate resolution and action to be taken. Take this time to figure out what processes you’ll want to keep and where there’s room for improvement.  

Drive Continuous Improvement With Connected Work Technology

The problem with Gemba walks is that they’re often ad hoc get-togethers. Managers walk the manufacturing floor and don’t necessarily always have a structured or standardized process in place. On top of that, you’re likely taking notes down on paper, or sometimes not taking notes at all – giving you an anecdotal snapshot. And once your Gemba walk is complete, you’ll then enter that information into a spreadsheet or system of record. This leads to a gap in time or waiting, also known as a delay in the process – from when you made the observation to reporting it. This contributes to waste in the form of non-value-added work, and a missed continuous improvement opportunity. 

Tap Into Your Whole Team

The idea behind the Gemba walk is to get out and see what’s actually happening on the factory floor. Many manufacturing operations often work around the clock. And if you’re a manager that typically works during the day, you’re not getting the full picture and are missing out on key information. Perhaps workers from the night shift face a completely different set of challenges. On top of that, you might be at risk of only hearing complaints from vocal workers which doesn’t provide a holistic view of your operations. The main purpose is to have as many different points of view as possible to make the best decision that will actually drive improvements. 

Give Your Team the Digital Tools They Need

With connected worker technology, like Connected Worker® by Parsable, you can digitally connect your frontline workers using mobile devices or tablets on the factory floor. Aside from making sure your team has access to up-to-date information in the palm of their hands to do their jobs, the app allows them to capture problems in real-time by taking photos, videos or jotting down notes – creating a digital record. 

Make It a Collaborative Effort

Connected Worker by Parsable digitally connects your teams across shifts, plants and sites and gives them the tools they need to collaborate and contribute to your information gathering process. The real-time nature of the app allows workers to immediately log information, rather than waiting for the next scheduled Gemba walk to take place. This not only unlocks tribal knowledge, since that valuable information is now being captured digitally, but it provides visibility and a dialogue to take place since workers and managers can seamlessly share instant feedback. 

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Leverage Data To Drive Process Improvements

Traditionally, as a manager you would aggregate data from different sources, departments and systems – and eventually find opportunities for improvement.

With Connected Worker you now have access to a continuous stream of information and can perform your Gemba walks in a more structured guided way that enables you to capture findings and data on a mobile device during your walk. 

While it gives you an always-on view into your operations, it also encourages your team on the factory floor to participate and log observations and where they think there’s room for improvement. This gives you a birds eye view into where and when issues arise, and you can direct resources accordingly without waiting for your next Gemba walk. By continuing to engage your whole team in the process, frontline employees are able to see that their voices are being heard and driving positive change. 

Done right, Gemba walks are a powerful tool to channel knowledge sharing, allow a thorough capture of information and boost the motivation of your hard-working manufacturing employees. Gemba walks not only benefit leadership, but your entire team by improving factory operations. Processes are streamlined, your team’s lives can be made easier, waste is eliminated and productivity can be enhanced – what more could you ask for?