What is a Gemba Walk? Gemba Walk In A Nutshell

A Gemba Walk is a fundamental component of lean management. It describes the personal observation of work to learn more about it. Gemba is a Japanese word that loosely translates as “the real place”, or in business, “the place where value is created”. The Gemba Walk as a concept was created by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System of lean manufacturing. Ohno wanted to encourage management executives to leave their offices and see where the real work happened. This, he hoped, would build relationships between employees with vastly different skillsets and build trust.

Understanding a Gemba Walk

The exact physical place will vary from industry to industry. For a jazz band, value is created in the recording studio. For a pilot training school, value is created in the classroom and the aircraft.

The three important elements of a Gemba Walk

Each Gemba walk must respect three important elements:

Go and see

Management executives from every level of the hierarchy are encouraged to take regular tours of Gemba locations and be involved in finding wasteful activities.

Ask why

A good leader must ask the right questions and also be a good listener.

They must be able to liaise with workers to explore the value stream and locate problematic components.

Respect people

It’s important to note that a Gemba Walk is not a “boss walk” – which often involves direct criticism of the way an employee works.

Executives must focus on collaboratively identifying the weak spots of processes and not the weak spots of people. 

Seven steps for a successful Gemba Walk

A Gemba Walk may seem like somewhat of an unstructured process, but a basic framework should be used depending on particular goals and objectives.

Let’s now define each of the seven steps:

Pick a theme

Where will the effort be focused?

Common themes include safety, efficiency, and productivity.

With a theme identified, executives should create a list of thematic questions.

Prepare the team

The individuals who will be consulted must be made aware that a Gemba Walk will be occurring ahead of time.

Importantly, they should be reassured that it is a continuous improvement opportunity and not an evaluation of their personal performance.

Focus on the process

As noted, the main purpose of a Gemba Walk is to observe, understand, and improve processes. 

Follow the value stream

The biggest process improvements are often found during handoffs between processes, departments, or people.

It is also beneficial to invite the employees to suggest other possible improvements.

Record observations

Either with pen or paper or digitally.

Resist the temptation to make suggestions during the walk itself – no matter how obvious solutions may appear.

Improvement should be analyzed later with a fact-based problem-solving tool such as the PDCA cycle.

An extra pair of eyes

Where possible, involve a colleague from another department to take part in the Gemba Walk.

Those who are less familiar with the process may have a fresh perspective on any improvements to be made.


Gemba Walk insights must be shared with participants, irrespective of the significance of process improvements.

If improvements have been identified, give notice to the relevant employees and involve them in process changes.

Good communication is vital. This helps avoid a scenario where employees believe that management is using Gemba Walks to interfere or criticize.

Gemba Walk checklist questions

While managers need to be good listeners and ask questions as issues arise, it can also be a good idea to prepare some topics of discussion before visiting the worksite. 

For inspiration, the manager can look to the eight wastes of lean manufacturing: defects, excess processing, overproduction, waiting, inventory, transportation, motion, and non-utilized talent.

It may also be worthwhile to consider the 5S workplace management technique as a means of collaborating with employees to better organize the work area.

We have also taken the liberty to list some example questions below arranged into four key categories.


  • How is an error or defect detected when it occurs?
  • What are the existing approaches to implementing corrective action?
  • What are the most common errors? What is the reason for their frequency?
  • Who is responsible for making decisions concerning errors and defects?
  • How is the process of error detection and resolution recorded?

Process analysis

  • For each process, are standard work practices complete, concise, and able to be reviewed? In this context, standard work involves the identification and communication of issues to discover the most efficient way to perform a task that is known to everyone.
  • What methods are in place to ensure standard work has a beneficial outcome?
  • Does there exist a smooth transition from one process step to the next?
  • Are there training procedures that ensure new employees are trained in standard work?


  • If the employee was allowed to improve standard work and make it more efficient, where would they begin? Some employees believe standard work is a robotic process that limits creativity and innovation, but the reverse is true since it provides the stable foundation for which further process improvements can be made. What’s more, employees engaged in standard work trust the process and have the mental space and clarity to formulate new and innovative ideas.
  • What does the team consider to be important? In other words, what are its priorities?
  • Are there any issues or topics that have been overlooked which need to be discussed?

Resource needs

  • Do the employees have the resources they need for each process?
  • Do they have access to tools that can capture improvement opportunities?
  • Similarly, is the necessary inventory available as and when it is needed?
  • Are tools such as process maps, control charts, and Kanban boards up to date?

How to derive maximum benefit from Gemba Walks

In the final section we will provide a summary of general Gemba Walk wisdom and best practices:

  • The overarching goal of a Gemba Walk is to ensure that leaders help their subordinates adopt a mindset of continuous improvement.
  • The presence of standard work procedures can make the Gemba process more efficient and more effective. 
  • Maximum effectiveness occurs when abnormal process conditions are made visible.
  • Remember that the structure of a Gemba Walk depends on the situation and the extent to which lean principles are embodied by the organization. This can make the planning of inspections problematic, but leaders must avoid the temptation to “standardise” the Gemba Walk as doing so will render it useless.

Gemba Walk and Lean Methodology

The lean methodology is a continuous process of product development to meet customers’ needs. It was in part borrowed by the auto industry and its roots are found in the Toyota Production System, which was heavily influenced by Henry Ford’s assembly line system. The lean methodology is, therefore, an evolution from lean manufacturing, based on continuous improvement.

Gemba Walk is a practice within the broader lean methodology discipline.

Many of these concepts came out from the Toyota Production System.

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an early form of lean manufacturing created by auto-manufacturer Toyota. Created by the Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1940s and 50s, the Toyota Production System seeks to manufacture vehicles ordered by customers most quickly and efficiently possible.

Gemba Walk and Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating errors or defects in a product, service, or process. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola as a management approach based on quality fundamentals in the early 1980s. A decade later, it was popularized by General Electric who estimated that the methodology saved them $12 billion in the first five years of operation.

Six Sigma is also a discipline from the lean methodologies developed around the Toyota Production System.

Six Sigma, in particular, was developed by Motorola, as a key management approach to quality.

Within these lean methodologies, the Gemba Walk is a critical practice.

Key takeaways

  • A Gemba Walk is a lean management practice that advocates the direct observation of work to identify process improvements.
  • A Gemba Walk encourages upper management to build relationships with employees. This is facilitated by regularly liaising with process workers and listening to their concerns without interjecting.
  • To some extent, a Gemba Walk should be allowed to flow in a natural direction. Nevertheless, some initial preparation before following a basic framework of steps is advisable.

What are the elements of Gemba Walk?

The three core elements of Gemba Walk are:

How do you implement a Gemba Walk?

In which context does it makes sense to apply Gemba Walk?

Some of the areas where Gemba Walk makes sense are:

Connected Agile Frameworks


AIOps is the application of artificial intelligence to IT operations. It has become particularly useful for modern IT management in hybridized, distributed, and dynamic environments. AIOps has become a key operational component of modern digital-based organizations, built around software and algorithms.


AgileSHIFT is a framework that prepares individuals for transformational change by creating a culture of agility.

Agile Methodology

Agile started as a lightweight development method compared to heavyweight software development, which is the core paradigm of the previous decades of software development. By 2001 the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born as a set of principles that defined the new paradigm for software development as a continuous iteration. This would also influence the way of doing business.

Agile Program Management

Agile Program Management is a means of managing, planning, and coordinating interrelated work in such a way that value delivery is emphasized for all key stakeholders. Agile Program Management (AgilePgM) is a disciplined yet flexible agile approach to managing transformational change within an organization.

Agile Project Management

Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.

Agile Modeling

Agile Modeling (AM) is a methodology for modeling and documenting software-based systems. Agile Modeling is critical to the rapid and continuous delivery of software. It is a collection of values, principles, and practices that guide effective, lightweight software modeling.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Bimodal Portfolio Management

Bimodal Portfolio Management (BimodalPfM) helps an organization manage both agile and traditional portfolios concurrently. Bimodal Portfolio Management – sometimes referred to as bimodal development – was coined by research and advisory company Gartner. The firm argued that many agile organizations still needed to run some aspects of their operations using traditional delivery models.

Business Innovation Matrix

Business innovation is about creating new opportunities for an organization to reinvent its core offerings, revenue streams, and enhance the value proposition for existing or new customers, thus renewing its whole business model. Business innovation springs by understanding the structure of the market, thus adapting or anticipating those changes.

Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Constructive Disruption

A consumer brand company like Procter & Gamble (P&G) defines “Constructive Disruption” as: a willingness to change, adapt, and create new trends and technologies that will shape our industry for the future. According to P&G, it moves around four pillars: lean innovation, brand building, supply chain, and digitalization & data analytics.

Continuous Innovation

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Design Sprint

A design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.

Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.


DevOps refers to a series of practices performed to perform automated software development processes. It is a conjugation of the term “development” and “operations” to emphasize how functions integrate across IT teams. DevOps strategies promote seamless building, testing, and deployment of products. It aims to bridge a gap between development and operations teams to streamline the development altogether.

Dual Track Agile

Product discovery is a critical part of agile methodologies, as its aim is to ensure that products customers love are built. Product discovery involves learning through a raft of methods, including design thinking, lean start-up, and A/B testing to name a few. Dual Track Agile is an agile methodology containing two separate tracks: the “discovery” track and the “delivery” track.

Feature-Driven Development

Feature-Driven Development is a pragmatic software process that is client and architecture-centric. Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an agile software development model that organizes workflow according to which features need to be developed next.

eXtreme Programming

eXtreme Programming was developed in the late 1990s by Ken Beck, Ron Jeffries, and Ward Cunningham. During this time, the trio was working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation System (C3) to help manage the company payroll system. eXtreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology. It is designed to improve software quality and the ability of software to adapt to changing customer needs.

ICE Scoring

The ICE Scoring Model is an agile methodology that prioritizes features using data according to three components: impact, confidence, and ease of implementation. The ICE Scoring Model was initially created by author and growth expert Sean Ellis to help companies expand. Today, the model is broadly used to prioritize projects, features, initiatives, and rollouts. It is ideally suited for early-stage product development where there is a continuous flow of ideas and momentum must be maintained.

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Innovation Matrix

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Innovation Theory

The innovation loop is a methodology/framework derived from the Bell Labs, which produced innovation at scale throughout the 20th century. They learned how to leverage a hybrid innovation management model based on science, invention, engineering, and manufacturing at scale. By leveraging individual genius, creativity, and small/large groups.

Lean vs. Agile

The Agile methodology has been primarily thought of for software development (and other business disciplines have also adopted it). Lean thinking is a process improvement technique where teams prioritize the value streams to improve it continuously. Both methodologies look at the customer as the key driver to improvement and waste reduction. Both methodologies look at improvement as something continuous.

Lean Startup

A startup company is a high-tech business that tries to build a scalable business model in tech-driven industries. A startup company usually follows a lean methodology, where continuous innovation, driven by built-in viral loops is the rule. Thus, driving growth and building network effects as a consequence of this strategy.


Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.

Rapid Application Development

RAD was first introduced by author and consultant James Martin in 1991. Martin recognized and then took advantage of the endless malleability of software in designing development models. Rapid Application Development (RAD) is a methodology focusing on delivering rapidly through continuous feedback and frequent iterations.

Scaled Agile

Scaled Agile Lean Development (ScALeD) helps businesses discover a balanced approach to agile transition and scaling questions. The ScALed approach helps businesses successfully respond to change. Inspired by a combination of lean and agile values, ScALed is practitioner-based and can be completed through various agile frameworks and practices.

Spotify Model

The Spotify Model is an autonomous approach to scaling agile, focusing on culture communication, accountability, and quality. The Spotify model was first recognized in 2012 after Henrik Kniberg, and Anders Ivarsson released a white paper detailing how streaming company Spotify approached agility. Therefore, the Spotify model represents an evolution of agile.

Test-Driven Development

As the name suggests, TDD is a test-driven technique for delivering high-quality software rapidly and sustainably. It is an iterative approach based on the idea that a failing test should be written before any code for a feature or function is written. Test-Driven Development (TDD) is an approach to software development that relies on very short development cycles.


Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.


Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.


Scrumban is a project management framework that is a hybrid of two popular agile methodologies: Scrum and Kanban. Scrumban is a popular approach to helping businesses focus on the right strategic tasks while simultaneously strengthening their processes.

Scrum Anti-Patterns

Scrum anti-patterns describe any attractive, easy-to-implement solution that ultimately makes a problem worse. Therefore, these are the practice not to follow to prevent issues from emerging. Some classic examples of scrum anti-patterns comprise absent product owners, pre-assigned tickets (making individuals work in isolation), and discounting retrospectives (where review meetings are not useful to really make improvements).

Scrum At Scale

Scrum at Scale (Scrum@Scale) is a framework that Scrum teams use to address complex problems and deliver high-value products. Scrum at Scale was created through a joint venture between the Scrum Alliance and Scrum Inc. The joint venture was overseen by Jeff Sutherland, a co-creator of Scrum and one of the principal authors of the Agile Manifesto.

Stretch Objectives

Stretch objectives describe any task an agile team plans to complete without expressly committing to do so. Teams incorporate stretch objectives during a Sprint or Program Increment (PI) as part of Scaled Agile. They are used when the agile team is unsure of its capacity to attain an objective. Therefore, stretch objectives are instead outcomes that, while extremely desirable, are not the difference between the success or failure of each sprint.


The waterfall model was first described by Herbert D. Benington in 1956 during a presentation about the software used in radar imaging during the Cold War. Since there were no knowledge-based, creative software development strategies at the time, the waterfall method became standard practice. The waterfall model is a linear and sequential project management framework. 

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