CI Tools

What is a gemba walk? What are the benefits of doing a gemba walk?

A gemba walk is defined as the act of going to see gemba, the place where the process happens, and value is created.   During the walk, you will do the following.

Go See

The purpose of the walk is to understand the work and grasp the entire situation.  The associates must know the goal of your visit.  Let them know that you are there to improve a process or understand a problem, not to evaluate the people’s performance.  Go to the area and observe what is going on, observe to understand, not to judge.

Ask What

The second piece to gain understanding is to talk with the people who do the work.  Understand the situation better by asking open-ended questions.  Always ask what first, then why.

Show Respect

You are visiting the workplace of your team, their home for eight or more hours, respect them, and their second home.  Sometimes the following ways to show respect are ignored.  Do not judge, or make questions that can lead to blaming a person or department.  Listen more than you talk and do not give up the answer, let the associates learn and shine while explaining concepts and ideas that they master, not you.  Helping people to develop their skills and raise their self-esteem is a great way to show respect.

Benefits of the Gemba Walks

  • Learn about the process and the challenges associated to it, see what is really happening
  • Get facts to find the answer to a problem, or potential ideas to improve the process.
  • Develop the skills or your team, and other associates by coaching them on how to get facts using direct observation and the scientific or critical thinking (PDCA) to solve problems
  • Drive alignment inside the organization by modeling behaviors and communicating expectations.

Gemba or observation walks are a great tool to develop your team skills.  Do not waste the chance to show how much you appreciate and care about your team by not acting with respect.  Leaders must show respect at all times.  These walks are a great tool to complement the continuous improvement journey by supporting the culture change and providing focus and follow-up to what is important.

CI 101

Why Plan is critical for the success of your PDCA?

Monday, I talked about what the PDCA cycle is. Today I want to highlight how critical the step Plan is.

PDCA Cycle

Many times, while analyzing a problem, we don’t spend enough time understanding it. Instead of looking for the root cause of the problem, we start developing theories to correct the symptoms. If we create a plan to test possible solutions to the wrong problem, then the plan is doomed to fail.

The most important part of the PDCA cycle is understanding the problem. Get the background of the current situation. Even when you think you know the process, ask why it exists. Check the capability, expected outcomes, and actual performance. What value does it provide to the customer? Research regarding any possible risks, policies or regulations that can affect efficiency.


You must spend time observing what is going on. Go to gemba, where the action happens. Observe for as long as you can, and take notes to compare against all the data. You cannot have the whole story if you don’t go and see it for yourself. Go ahead and talk with your team, the people who do the work. Respectfully ask questions to understand the situation from their point of view.

After you know the process, define the problem. What is the gap between the expectation or goals and the current results? Describe the current situation using data, charts, tables or diagrams. Use tools like the 5 Whys and Fishbone diagrams to understand why that gap exists. It is critical for success that you identify the root cause of the problem. Otherwise, you will be working with symptoms and not the real problem.

Engage the team in the discussion of possible solutions. Go to gemba again and brainstorm with the people doing the work. If you find more than one root cause, rank them according to which has the greatest impact on the problem. At this point, you should have all the information you need to propose countermeasures or possible solutions. Tie your action items with the root cause while creating the plan. Who is responsible for doing what? How? Where? By when?

During this initial step, you determine the success of the PDCA exercise. You are trying to formulate theories to explain the gap between the standard and current performance, without the complete information, your theory will be wrong.