There is much confusion around Lean tools and the practice of a Gemba walk. Most commonly, leaders sometimes confuse a Gemba walk with the philosophy of Managing By Walking Around (MWBA). The two philosophies are truly in opposite camps, without similarity.
Gemba walk denotes the action of going to see the process, understand the work, ask questions, and learn. It is also one fundamental part of the Lean management philosophy.
The concept and development are credited to Taiichi Ohno, an executive at Toyota. It is an opportunity for staff to stand back from their day-to-day tasks to walk the floor of their workplace to identify wasteful activities. It is designed to allow leaders to identify existing safety hazards, observe machinery and equipment conditions, ask about the practiced standards, gain knowledge about the work status and build relationships with employees. The objective is to understand the value stream and its problems rather than review results or make superficial comments. Gemba walk is one of the five Lean guiding principles that should be practiced by Lean leaders on a daily basis. Usually, it is an activity that takes management to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities to practice Gemba Kaizen, or practical shopfloor improvement. They are crucial to maintaining the disciplined adherence to Lean process designs, part of the Lean support role permeating all leadership positions.
The more observation and problem solving that happens with operators on a Gemba walk, the more successful and enduring the changes will be. There is no rule that says a practitioner cannot take a Gemba walk at any point in a process change. In fact, reviewing ideas, piloting changes and tweaking implementation issues are all great uses of the Gemba walk. As a leader’s confidence builds in solving problems with many tools, the more problems you will solve directly on the shop floor, and consequently be able to coach others to recognize their abilities within themselves to solve the challenges they face.
A Gemba walk is not an opportunity to find fault in others while they are being observed. It is also not a time to enforce policy adherence, except possibly serious safety problems or gross violations. If a Gemba walk is used punitively, employees will shut down and resistance to change will rise rapidly. A Gemba walk needs to be approached from a place of mutual respect and interest in making things faster, safer, easier and just plain better.