Gemba Walk in Lean management

Imagine the following situation: A team member comes to you, gives you important information and asks you to pass it on to management because your team member is under time pressure. After talking to your team member, you realise that your notes are too vague. As a result, information is lost, and what was said may not be understood or even misunderstood. This is why it is sometimes advantageous for management to be on site and review the project themselves. This is where the Gemba Walk comes in.
Four people are looking at a laptop together in a brightly lit room.


Origin and significance

The Gemba Walk is part of the Lean management philosophy. This type of management aims to improve work processes and goals and to continuously support people in order to minimise waste of any kind, maximise efficiency and increase customer value. To achieve this, it is important to align the perspectives of the customer and the organization: What value does the customer want to achieve and how can the company achieve this value in the most resource-efficient way possible? To do this, it is important that management does not act from the top down. And this is where the Gemba Walk comes in. Gemba means "the real place". Managers and executives should observe the actual work process on site, familiarise themselves with the work processes, make contact with the employees, develop trust and mutual respect, and together identify opportunities for continuous improvement.

The Gemba Walk consists of three important elements.
1. Management should visit the production / project site regularly to identify activities that can be changed.
2. Listening openly and actively. It should be avoided to assume something that has not been said.
3. People must be respected. That means no judgement and no blame. You need to work together to find solutions that will improve the process. It is not about pointing out the weaknesses of the people, but the weaknesses of the project.

The Gemba Walk - Step-by-step

Although the implementation is divided into seven steps, these are not rigid and can be combined.

1. Choose a topic

A project consists of several phases (initiation, planning, implementation and finalisation) that require more or less observation and adaptation. It is not possible to observe the process arbitrarily, but it must be determined in advance what exactly is to be observed. This could be, for example, the productivity of a particular production step or the costs. In this way, the process can be viewed from a certain angle so that work can be carried out efficiently.

2. Prepare the team

Since a team is being observed, it should be prepared beforehand. Above all, it should be emphasised that this is a collaborative process, where the aim is to improve together. This will ensure that the team does not feel pressured into believing that they are being personally assessed. As mentioned above, it is important that the project, not the people, is observed and evaluated.

3. Focus on the project

This step goes hand in hand with the last sentence of the second point. Since it is important to improve the process, you need to focus on the specific topic of the project. This way, there is no contradiction with the second point and the team does not feel unnecessarily pressured.

4. Keep an eye on the value chain

A value chain represents the various project phases as an ordered sequence of activities. These are linked together in the project so that the activities with the greatest waste can be identified. By linking all activities, the overall performance can be improved. 

5. Write down observations

The main aim here is to concentrate on observation rather than analysis. This includes documenting your observations accurately, both in writing and visually. When you look at the documentation again later, you may come up with different solutions to those you see now. Therefore, do not think out loud about improvements immediately, but do so later in peace and quiet.

6. Don't go alone

A second person may have a different view of the processes. Especially if this person has a different position in the project, the perspective will be completely different. In this way, the project is viewed from different angles and questions are asked that you hadn't even thought of during preparation.

7. Subsequent communication

Whether you have found something or not, you should always let the team know how the process went. After all, the team you are observing will be thinking about it after the inspection. In this way, a good feeling can be conveyed and the team will feel respected and valued.

Examples of questions

In order to work efficiently during the Gemba Walk, a list of questions should be prepared once the topic has been selected. This will ensure that you understand the process better by actively asking questions. Examples of questions could be:
  • What are you currently working on or what are you responsible for?
  • Who gave you this task and what would you do differently?
  • Have you already encountered problems yourself?
  • How could the problems be solved or is the cause already known?
  • What other questions would you ask?

After the Gemba Walk

The person who has observed and documented the process should then sit down with other members of management to discuss what has been observed. If necessary or possible, a member of the team who noticed something during the observation process and can contribute to the improvement can also be invited. Actionable measures and solutions should be identified during the meeting. In other words, it should be discussed which processes should be retained and which should be revised. The improvement plans must then be specified. 
In addition to improving the project, teamwork is also strengthened. This is because the team has been openly involved in the process. The relationship between employer and employee is also improved as both are on an equal footing in the discussion, ensuring that the process is improved together.


The Gemba Walk is important not only for improving the project being worked on, but also for involving employees in the improvement process. This way, changes are not imposed from above, which can lead to unnecessary adjustments, but employees who are truly involved in the process can contribute their opinions and suggestions for improvement. This also strengthens the relationship between management and staff, which benefits the whole project.

Gemba Walk - the IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, Gemba Walk

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