Gemba, meaning 'the real place,' is an excellent tool for any company or organization using Kaizen. In Kaizen, the phrase “Go to Gemba first” is actually often used. Gemba and Gemba walks are tools for managers and supervisors to go to where the action is or where the process is completed. This can be a workbench, a sales meeting, a cubicle, or talking with frontline workers. A key component to Kaizen is that managers get more involved when making decisions and not make decisions based solely on reports or meeting notes. Instead, the manager must intimately understand the processes in order to make and implement the small improvements that are crucial to the Kaizen model.
Gemba walks conducted in a manufacturing process can ideally take place where the action is taking place. That could be the assembly line, the shipping department, the warehouse, the sales office, or the conference room. Here are the basics of the Gemba walks:
- Who: Although anyone in the workplace can participate in the walk itself, they are normally carried out and performed by managers and executives.
- What: The main goal of Gemba walks is for managers and executives to understand how things currently work while looking for potential problems. Themes can be applied for some of these walks to be a focus for those taking the walk. This can be a focus on a particular part of a process or looking for a specific type of waste.
- When: The frequency of Gemba walks vary and it depends on the situation at hand and who is performing the walk. Managers can perform daily walks to observe details of processes while executives may only take walks on a weekly or monthly basis.
- Where: The scope of Gemba walks can also vary from the entire value stream down to a specific part of the process. This can depend on the information needed from the walk and what processes are the focus of the walk. Alternatively, Gemba walks may happen over a week with different areas being walked on different days.
- Why: Gemba walks are important to businesses and Kaizen because it promotes involvement from all levels and mangers being able to see up close how processes are performed and areas that would benefit from smaller and continuous improvements.