In complex manufacturing operations, a common problem is the wide range of tasks; different managers, workers, and other factors get out of sync. Things tend to get bogged down in complexities that slow everything down and create wasteful inefficiencies.


This was once a considerable problem in the auto manufacturing process. That’s why a Japanese industrial engineer named Taiichi Ohno invented what he called the Gemba Walk. Ohno worked for Toyota.


Gemba is a Japanese word that translates basically as “where the action is.” The idea is to focus on those areas where the real, necessary, most important, and immediate tasks are getting done.


The Gemba Walk can be described with three basic actions to be taken by managers:


  1. Go and Look


Managers on all levels should get away from the desks and pushing papers to take a walk around the floor of a manufacturing facility. The idea is to go where the action is and look for activities that are inefficient or wasteful.


  1. Ask Why


The objective of the Gemba Walk is to examine the “value stream” in detail so that the problematic parts can be located using communication with the workers. This requires specific leadership skills from managers in that they learn to listen rather than just give orders. Note that five specific kinds of “whys” (The 5 Whys) shape this process.


  1. Respect Your Employees


A vital element of the Gemba Walk is to scrap “manager speak” or “boss talk.” This is not about finding a problem and then calling someone an idiot for a bad practice. Just the opposite is required. This is about nurturing cooperation and communication between office management types with workers on the factory floor. The focus is on finding weak spots, solving the problem together, and letting everyone feel empowered for the good results that follow.


A Different Kind of Leadership


Central to the Gemba Walk concept is a commitment by company leaders to exert their influence over a factory’s complete operation. Managers realize that they don’t work in a vacuum. Instead, they should seek to become a seamless part of an overall process wherein managers and those handling the actual production tasks get into greater synchronization with one another.