Use Gemba Walks to Uncover Problems & Promote Accountability

Posted by on Jan 12, 2020 in Continuous Improvement, Gemba Walk, Lean, Learning Organization, Problem Solving, Process Improvement, Standard Work | 0 comments

Gemba is a Japanese word that means the real place where value is created.  A gemba walk is a management tool whose purpose is to have managers walk the front line where they can see problems as they are occurring, ask questions and allow them to create follow-up on problems and promote accountability.  Problems are most visible where they occur and the best ideas for solving them will come from those areas.


The actions that occur during a gemba walk are:

  1. Leaders are able to see for themselves what is happening in the process
  2. To understand what’s happening
  3. To be able to ask team leaders and employees questions
  4. To learn from employees

Taiichi Ohno, the originator of the Toyota Production System, led the development of the gemba walk.  He felt gemba walks gave managers the best opportunity to:

  • identify waste
  • expose safety hazards
  • monitor equipment and machinery conditions
  • ask about standard practices
  • build relationships with employees

While on a gemba walk the emphasis is to understand problems and not to solve them.  Stops should be made at department tier boards which display information on safety, people, quality, speed, cost, and innovation.

As leaders and managers conduct the gemba walk, they should ask employees the following questions:

  1. What is the standard?
  2. How do we develop a standard?
  3. How clear is the standard to those doing the work?
  4. How clear is the standard to those not doing the work?
  5. How does your performance compare to the standard?
  6. Why are we not performing to the standard?
  7. Why are we performing above the standard?
  8. What are we doing to meet the standard?
  9. What can we do to improve the current condition?
  10. How can we make the abnormal condition more immediately visible?
  11. Why do you think I asked you these questions?
  12. What other questions would you have like me to have asked?

Standards must be clear and unambiguous.  If the standard is unclear, management has failed to do its job.  Leaders should require standards that are documented, visual, and change frequently as a result of continual improvement.  They should make sure everyone has received proper training on the standard and perform occasional random audits to verify this.

Other questions that can be asked are “How do you know that quality is good?” or “How much variation is allowed before you call for help?”

A truly visual workplace will facilitate a complete understanding of the current process in a 30 minute walk through.  If it takes longer than that you need to reevaluate your visual management strategies.

Failure to meet the standard is the classic definition of a problem and provides a golden opportunity for a leader to help develop their employees’ thinking and problem solving skills.  You should strive to ask the “5 Whys” and refrain from giving them an answer.  A problem also occurs if a process is consistently performing above the standard.  It is either working to a false standard or using more resources than necessary.  Both situations call for creative thinking and continual improvement.  Remember, the goal of a gemba walk is not to solve problems, but to understand the situation and help others develop their thinking and problem solving skills.

Problems often persist because they go undetected.  Looking for quick, low-cost, visual ways to make problems more obvious is an important leadership role.

Gemba Walk Follow-up

During the walk you will record action items and assign them with dates for resolution.  Depending on the severity and complexity of the problems, these action items will require different follow-up strategies.  The “just go do its” can be reviewed during the next day’s walk while larger problems can be reviewed for implementation weekly.

Gemba walk follow-up strategies are all about creating accountability.  We want to make sure we are “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk.”  The use of a daily accountability board is a key piece of the visual accountability process.  These boards can look very different from one department to another as each area creates the visual system that works best for them.


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