What is GEMBA? Definitions of Gemba Image credit: The Lean Post

What is Gemba?

Gemba (現場, also spelt less commonly as genba) is a japanese term meaning "the real place." Japanese police could refer to a crime scene as gemba, and TV reporters often refer to themselves as reporting live from gemba. 

In business, however, gemba refers to the place where value is created. The most common use of the term is in manufacturing, where the gemba is the factory floor. Beyond this, gemba can really be any "site", such as a building site in construction, the sales floor in retail, or somewhere the service provider interacts directly with the customer e.g. a car dealership showroom.

READ MORE: What is Kaizen? Key Tools and Principles

VIDEO: Shut up and Go to Gemba, TEDx 

What is a Gemba Walk?

In lean manufacturing, the whole point of gemba is that problems in a business process or production line are often easily visible, and the best improvement come from going to 'the real place', where leaders can see the state of the process for themselves.

"Go see, ask why, show respect"

Over the course of a Gemba Walk, leaders, managers and supervisors are expected to simply observe and understand process. As part of the Kaizen methodology, it is also supposed to encourage greater communication, transparency and trust between the lower-level of employees and leadership. For this reason, it is not appropriate to use a Gemba walk to point out employee flaws, or enforce policy - this runs the risk of employees putting up barriers to leadership, or closing off altogether.

Go to Gemba - what is a gemba walk?

7 Steps for a Successful Gemba Walk

Take a look at Mike Serena's best advice for a positive Gemba walk - read the full article here.

  1. Create a premise or hypothesis that explains why you believe the topic needs to be addressed. An area leader might pose questions like: a)  “I believe that we have excess WIP in and around our production areas causing excess lead time in delivering products to our customers. Let’s go take a look.”, or b)  “I have a hunch that our absenteeism and excessive operator rotation could be contributing to our increase in production defects, or c)  Let’s go and see what we can find out.”, or d) “I suspect that our metric boards are not identifying the root causes of issues. Let’s take an hour and review the effectiveness of our metric board countermeasures and assignments.”
  2. Formalize a list of questions to review during the gemba session. For example, here are some questions that you might ask when focusing on equipment and tool maintenance: a)  Is there evidence of a formal preventative maintenance and auditing program?, b) Is a timetable and tracking sheet posted near critical tools and equipment?, or c)  Are operators involved in daily equipment and tool maintenance? or d) Have we conducted a Pareto analysis of our unscheduled equipment downtime?
  3. Share your experiences and feedback as you walk through the area or process. Be sure to keep the comments and examples reinforcing and constructive.
  4. Make appropriate notes and assign follow up homework. Use a “what, who and when” format to track assignments and create accountability.
  5. Establish how often you will conduct gemba sessions with your team. Frequency should be based on desired skill development as well as issue severity.
  6. Cascade your expectations and encourage your reports to conduct gemba sessions with their respective teams.
  7. Foster a “train the trainer” mentality that promotes the importance of your company being a learning organization.

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