Gemba Walks – A Foundational Methodology in Enterprise Excellence Deployment

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Trainer, Coach & Mentoir for Enterprise Excellence, Consultant and Trainer
Currently...Trainer, Coach & Mentor for Enterprise Excellence: Focus on Enterprise Excellence model linking methodology, tools and techniques of Operational Excellence/Lean Six Sigma with the guiding principles & behaviors of an organization to deliver Business Ideal Results. It’s all about driving successful Business Transformation and Strategy (PLAN THE BUSINESS), running the Day to Day business operations to Goals & Objectives, (RUN THE BUSINESS), while delivering Continuous Improvement and Innovation (SOLVING BUSINESS PROBLEMS). Experiences: 12 Years – Product & Process Technology Leadership experience in Chemical and Plastics Industry (Aldrich Chemicals, General Electric Plastics); 8 Years Global Sourcing/Supply Chain Management (GE Plastics); 19 Years as Six Sigma Quality Leader in Plastics, Insurance, Health Care Industry (GE Plastics, -GE Financial Assurance, and United Health Group) with the last 12 years in BioTech (Drug & Device … Nektar Therapeutics, Amylin Pharmaceuticals, and Bristol-Myers Squibb). Education: Ph.D.-Organic Chemistry; B.A. in Chemistry/Zoology/Computer Science; Lean/Six Sigma Quality…Certified MBB, Trainer & Facilitator; Change Management Leader… Certified in GE CAP® & Facilitation; Quality Training and Certification … Lean, DMAIC, DMADOV, and Change Management; Certified “Train the Trainer”.

 As Part of a Business Transformation and Enterprise Excellence strategy, how can the methodologies & tools of Operational Excellence be integrated into Business Strategy?

A foundational Operational Excellence approach was highlighted in a 16MAY18 BPM article around 6 key methodologies … Visual Management, Gemba Walks, 5s, Value Stream Maps, Standard Work, & Kaizen Process Improvement Actions. Visual Management was covered in that article.1Today’s discussion will be around the powerful engagement & empowerment methodology of Gemba Walks.

Tell me more about Gemba Walks

As one of the Foundational methodologies, Gemba Walks are a key skillset for Leadership to leverage. The words of Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho, “Go see, ask why, show respect” are now famous as basic lean principles and are critical to keep in mind during a Gemba Walk2:

By definition, a Gembais the “place where value is created”. A Gemba Walk gets Leadership out of the office and conference room and down to the areas where the workforce produces that value.

“Gemba walks can actually serve a range of useful purposes:

  • Driving continuous improvement by helping managers and their teams to spot waste and quality risks, identify improvement opportunities, or find the root cause of issues.
  • In sales environments, helping managers to gain firsthand insights on real customer needs, concerns, and behaviors.
  • Building the right capabilities and behaviors, giving managers the chance to be visible role models and the opportunity to provide direct coaching and support to frontline personnel.
  • Build a strong culture, by enabling clear and direct communication between different levels of the organization.

Gemba can be also used to confirm quality processes—especially in the quality control (QC) lab but also for some quality assurance (QA) activities, such as batch review and release and in-process control. Gemba Walks should be an essential ingredient of any quality management system (QMS).”3

A Gemba Walk is well structured – prior to going to an area, the leaders identify specific goals to achieve or problems to better understand- making Gemba a powerful technique in driving the critical business areas of Safety & Compliance. 

What are the basics behind a Gemba Walk?

Via Gemba Walks … The currency of leadership is presence.

  • Walk the value streams of the site or business
    • Observe the product flow through the area
  • A vehicle to see how business is functioning
    • Understand the current environment in the area
    • Understand the state of communication & culture
    • Challenge teams to deliver future state improvements
  • A focus of observation & coaching
    • Act to remove obstacles that are hindering performance
    • Provide direct coaching on how to achieve desired performance to area owner (or responsible party)
    • Mentor management and team leadership on how to empower and engage the workforce

For a thorough Leadership Guide see “How to do a Gemba Walk” by Michael Bremer.5

How can Gemba Walks drive the next levels of improvements by Process Leadership?

  • Today’s leaders often try to apply sophisticated tools/technologies to deal with problems.
  • Gemba deals with the roles of Leaders and the need to develop a learning organization focused on how to improve performance.
  • One of the roles of top management is to challenge all managers to attain ever higher goals while engaging and energizing the workforce through Team Empowerment.
  • In turn, first-line supervisors need to challenge and mentor workers to do a better job all the time while workers need to feel empowered and as a partner to bring forward improvement ideas and suggestions for innovation.

So what are the main features for a successful Gemba Walk?

  • Observe & Ask to understand
  • Coach & Mentor
  • Take Action to remove obstacles

The takeaway

Most solutions to problems lie with the employees. Treat them properly and they are very willing and happy to share them – they just need to be asked.6

A Gemba Walk reinforces Leadership commitment, opens up the communications, and provides a way to reinforce a company’s mission – vision – values and engage the whole workforce to deliver a Business Transformation and Enterprise Excellence strategy.

Look for future articles on Enterprise Excellence Business Process Management as well as deployment strategies as shown below:


 1.     “Visual Management in Enterprise Excellence Deployment” , 16MAY19 article

2.     “How To Go To The Gemba: Go see, Ask Why, Show Respect”by John Shook, Lean Enterprise Institute article:

Gemba Walks, Expanded 2ndEdition by Jim Womack, ISBN-13:978-1934109380, ISBN-10:193410938X

3.     “Bringing quality closer to operations: The power of Gemba Walks” by Julie Rose, Paul Rutten, Vanya Telpis of McKenzie & Company from the book “Flawless … “From Measuring Failure to Building Quality Robustness in Pharma”:

4.     Safety & Compliance via Gemba Walks … “Lean Safety Gemba Walks: A Methodology for Workforce Engagement and Culture Change”,Robert B. Hafey, Productivity Press, Published November 24, 2014, ISBN 9781482258981 – CAT# K24162

The Gemba Safety Walk by Dave Collins,

“Safety through Gemba” by Brian Fitzpatrick,

5.     “How To Do A Gemba Walk, A Leaders Guide” by Michael S Bremer, Copyright @ The Cumberland Group

6.     “Why Compliance Professionals Need To Go to the Gemba” by Craig Thornton,

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