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To support continuous improvement initiatives, manufacturing leaders need to get out of their seats every day and spend time with their teams on the shop floor. This offers supervisors an opportunity to identify any issues or inefficiencies and take steps to correct them. One of the best ways to do this is through the Gemba walk.
Originally developed by Taiichi Ohno, the Japanese engineer and former Toyota executive who helped establish the Toyota Production System (TPS), the Gemba Walk is the lean manufacturing practice of going to where work is being done in order to view production, ask questions, understand processes, and support teams. In fact, “gemba” (from the Japanese word “genba”) means the “actual place” emphasizing just how important this direct interaction between management and production is.
Gemba walks help leaders learn what is happening in the factory (or the Gemba, in this context), get insights, and connect with their teams. Creating a Gemba Walk checklist ahead of time structures the activity, while ensuring what needs to be covered isn’t overlooked.
What is a Gemba Walk checklist?
A gemba walk checklist is a list of items you’d like to examine during your gemba walks.
This checklist is designed to guide the observer during their walk, ensuring they focus on important elements such as safety issues, workflow efficiency, waste identification, and process standardization.
It typically includes specific items to check, questions to ask, and observations to make, allowing for a structured and comprehensive assessment of the workplace. The Gemba Walk Checklist promotes consistency across multiple walks and provides a basis for data-driven insights and continuous improvement.
Here’s how a thoughtful gemba walk checklist can improve efficiency and reduce waste in your operations.
The importance of writing a Gemba Walk checklist
Think of a Gemba walk checklist as a grocery list. You can do without one, but odds of forgetting an ingredient (or crucial step) are higher without a list to guide you. Having a well-structured Gemba Walk Checklist is essential for a number of reasons:
- Consistency and Standardization: With a checklist, every Gemba Walk can follow the same structure and process, ensuring that key points aren't missed, regardless of who is conducting the walk. This promotes standardization and allows for better comparisons over time.
- Focus and Efficiency: A checklist helps to maintain focus on the objectives of the walk, preventing distractions, and increasing efficiency. It acts as a roadmap, guiding observers through the walk and ensuring that important factors are given due attention.
- Effective Communication: A checklist serves as an effective communication tool between different stakeholders. It helps everyone understand what is being evaluated and on what criteria, promoting transparency and understanding.
- Data-driven Decision Making: A checklist allows for more objective and accurate data collection, helping to avoid biased observations or human error. This reliable data then serves as the basis for informed, data-driven decisions and actions.
- Continuous Improvement: A checklist is an evolving tool. As changes are made in response to previous walks, the checklist can be updated to reflect new focus areas or targets, enabling continuous improvement and growth.
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Considerations for your Gemba Walk
An effective Gemba walk checklist should be tailored to the theme you choose for that walk, but there are some general points you should always keep in mind:
Consider the process as a whole: A team needs to be able to rely on every part of production, and any changes or challenges that impact one element of production will likely have downstream affects.
Consider if the current process is the only way this type of work can be done: Are there other formats, layouts, methodologies, or modes of production that may serve better than the one you are currently using?
Focus on identifying the root of the problem instead of the symptom: Jumping in to fix a troubled area can be tempting, but it is important to look at the big picture.
Keep track of who should be spoken with to solve each kind of problem (and who is responsible for functional areas): Once problems are identified and solutions mapped out, knowing who on the ground will be enforcing those changes is imperative.
Always stay focused on fixing the problems at hand: Efficient Gemba walks stay focused on fixing problems one topic at a time. By focusing on your checklist points, there won’t be distractions which could cause details to be missed.
Ask the right questions: Questions on your checklist do not need to be complex and hard to understand. Some questions to consider on your gemba walk include:
- Did you observe any problems with the established process?
- Is there an established process for this type of work?
- What do you do to recognize the root cause of the problem?
- Who do you speak with if there is a certain problem?
- How can you fix the problem?
7 Steps toward better Gemba Walk checklists
This seven step plan is a blueprint with checkpoints at every step of the Gemba Walk. Let’s jump in.
Step 1: Create a theme
Before a walk begins, managers should pick a theme to guide the entire Gemba walk. This narrows the focus of the Gemba walk and yields better results, as attention is not spread amongst different themes and objectives. Once a theme has been chosen (e.g. cost efficiency or operator engagement), it is easier to tailor your Gemba walk questions to the theme in question and ask quality questions.
Step 2: Prepare the team
Inform the team by explaining what a Gemba walk is and what to expect from a routine Gemba walk. Consider sharing your checklist, too. This lowers a team’s anxiety as the Gemba will not be perceived as an evaluation, but rather, a collaboration between stakeholders. Getting buy-in from the team beforehand will also raise questions that would have been missed.
Step 3: Focus on process
Stick to the evaluation of the process and how things are done. Here, a checklist can help. By writing questions that force you to assess the process, not the person, you can avoid the most common gemba walk mistakes: blaming. Remember: You are there to identify opportunities of improvement in the process and systemic barriers on the shop floor hindering productivity.
Step 4: Keep the value stream front and center
Make sure your checklist traces the whole value stream. By sketching these questions out beforehand, you can ensure you don’t miss any crucial stations or processes. Focusing the bulk of your Gemba walk on the value chain is more effective in identifying bottlenecks and potential pockets of waste. Removing such bottlenecks will improve overall performance across the value chain.
Step 5: Record your observations
Record everything. Hoover up every data point you encounter on your Gemba walk. Don’t make assumptions or recommendations before journaling everything you find on the Gemba walk. Here, checklists are helpful. You can record your observations as answers to the questions you know you need answered. You can also just take notes or record and document your findings via video. Regardless of method: record, record, record!
Step 6: Get a second vantage point
Once the Gemba walk has concluded and all relevant information has been recorded, seek a second opinion. Better yet, have another team member write their own checklist. Having a fresh set of eyes review your findings could yield important insights. Comparing checklists can help you locate any gaps in your own thinking. This second perspective could be someone far removed from the operations or an experienced operator who did not take part in the Gemba walk. Feedback reveals overlooked information.
Step 7: Solicit feedback
Present your findings to the team regardless of outcome. Whether your findings were insignificant and no changes need to be made to the operations or vice versa. This brings the collaboration between stakeholders full circle and negates any feelings of being watched by the team during the Gemba walk. If changes need to be made, include them in your presentation tying back to your findings. This brings buy-in from all stakeholders and increases probability of success once the change to operations occurs.
Ultimately, a Gemba Walk Checklist is not merely a tool for observation, but a vital
component in a company’s continuous improvement journey.
By defining the framework for the Gemba Walk, it ensures a streamlined process,
effective communication, data-backed decisions, and ultimately, a more
efficient and productive workplace.
If you're interested in learning how Tulip can help support your continuous improvement initiatives, reach out to a member of our team today!
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