A Gemba Walk Example and Question: Strengthening Lean Leadership


This is from a blog reader, Mike, in response to an earlier question about the role of senior leadership in a Lean effort.

I'm posting this with Mike's permission to get your feedback and comments.


In our facility, the most senior person with an office here is a Vice President. He takes the walk every morning at 9:00am (he will miss some now and then if he's on a customer call, out of the office, or has activities led by our Corporate office – located in another state). He is joined on the walk by our Manufacturing Manager, National Sales Director (when in-house), Inside Sales Manager, Production Managers of the Lean areas (that we have started to-date), Shipping Manager, Production Planner, Purchasing Manager, HR Manager, and the in-house Lean group. If someone is unavailable, he or she will send a representative. While this may sound cumbersome, it is a prime opportunity to have all the people necessary if there is a problem.

Each stop on the walk is centered around a “production” board. The walk starts in Sales, proceeds to Shipping, then one Assembly cell, one Product Line cell, followed by a Kaizen board, the Scheduling board, and concluding with the Purchasing board. If any discussion at a board lasts longer than 3 minutes, the group assigns someone responsible to coordinate a meeting/initiate a review of the issue. All parts of the organization are in the loop and all can provide input to issues as they arise, rather than after the fact. Operators at each location participate and all discussion is as equals. As the Lean Coordinator in the plant, I act as “referee” concerning the time spent and the equal opportunity of the discussion.

As a result, our direct lines of communication have increased immensely. That “soft” value is immeasurable. When we have customers or Corporate dignitaries in, we still follow the same routine. Our customers are often impressed with the ability of anyone on the walk being able to describe the situation at any board (that knowledge is shared via simple metric presentations at the boards, consistent themes from board to board, and regular involvement of everyone to truly understand the flow of products and information.) This walk happens regardless of who is absent. Those available just move forward.

Is this unique or common? Would other companies shudder at the dollar value of salaries involved in this 25 minute exercise daily? Is this “wasteful” in the eyes of others? I can tell from experience, the impact this has on the plant is significant – as described in my response to the reader question about Plant Management participation in the Gemba.


What feedback or advice do you have for Mike and his company?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mike-

    The 25 minutes spend every day is very productive and I do agree on the effect that it can have on Internal communication and the Management knowing the reality rather than information obtained through data or opinions.

    I have the following questions for you-

    1) WHY did the vice president decide to take the walk every day?
    was it his decision to do so or was it your efforts into making him do so?

    2) what information does the vice president want to collect from the shop floor, which he cannot obtain through his sub ordinate or other management heads?

    3) how does this activity contribute to the company profits?

  2. I used to work for a large FTSE 20 company (Fortune 20?) that employed approximately 90,000 people globally.

    My boss was a UK director and every single morning his day started walking through the plant and due to the nature of our plant the walk was approximately 3/4 mile on each line and we had 3. At each line he would meet with us, the Senior Project Delivery Managers and the Ops guy’s and we would walk the line so he knew exactly where we were what we were doing and what the problems were.

    I have very little time for this individual on a personal basis but I have a huge amount of respect for the getting out of the office and on to the shop floor every morning before 8am.

    The benefits of this were numerous including but not limited to:

    Staff knew that senior management were interested
    Staff witnessed senior management identifying problems and taking steps to resolve them
    Staff received first hand communication on a daily basis from the senior management about what was going on in the organisation.

  3. Goodness, I thought the way you described was the way it was supposed to be! :)

    Early in my career at Exxon, the refinery manager and his staff would visit the central control room and various operating units. They did this at 7:00 AM every day.

    After leaving Exxon, I set up a similar routine in my own management rounds. First thing every morning, a group and I would make a trip around the plant. Rather than the large corner office overlooking a beautiful lake, I also selected (initially) a small “closet” of an office with a big picture window that was located directly on one of the main manufacturing floors. After the various department heads moved out on the floor to “join me,” I relocated back to the corner office (where I frankly belonged) so I could be more strategic and remove myself from the day-to-day … now that the right people (the department heads) were there where they should have been all along. Even then, we continued our daily walkthroughs.

    One other thing I did was block a day on my calendar each quarter in which I would show up with my coveralls and work side-by-side with the operators, mechanics, lab techs, etc. It was incredibly insightful and helped me to personally experience their challenges and subsequently remove barriers to their productivity. Long before we learned about lean and kaizen, this proved to be a great way to make dramatic, quick improvements on the spot.

    Neglecting lean for the moment, I just could not imagine any kind of reasonably effective plant leadership, productivity improvement, or even half-way positive work culture without the personal involvement of the facility’s senior management out on the floor. Likewise, it would be awfully difficult to be strategic and visionary, if the only thing I ever witnessed was the ducks around the lake from that big corner office. :)

  4. I think that it’s very much in keeping with Lean principles for the VP (and the other leaders) to take part in the 25 minutes of “gemba” time every day. It sounds like the walks are focused on communication (two way) and on identifying problems. As with any Lean practice, we shouldn’t go a gemba walk for the sake of doing gemba walks. As Dr. Deming said, “management by walking around” is not effective if we’re flying through so fast that we never talk to anyone or understand anything about the work that is being done. Gemba walks are not an opportunity to just shake everybody’s hand.

    Gemba walks are an opportunity for many constructive things:

    1) See what is happening — what problems can you see visually? what Lean methods are working well or not working well? how are the areas performing in terms of posted metrics?
    2) Instill disclipline — Lean is about discipline and showing that you, as management, have enough discipline to follow this “standard work for leaders” sets a good example. It gets frustrating to see Gemba walk routines start to fall apart after a few weeks. This isn’t an effort for those who are going to be distracted into the next fad after they get bored with the gemba.
    3) It’s a chance to talk with employees, to hear what problems are not getting solved. You can use that as an opportunity to coach (“what do you think we should do?”) or to take actions (or delegate them to your staff). Back to discipline, if problems are NOT being solved after being identified, you’re more likely to get honest feedback at the gemba rather than relying on management status reports.
    4) A chance to emphasize safety and quality. The things you ask questions about send a very powerful message to the employees. Don’t ever allow shortcuts on safety and make sure you’re demonstrating good safety practices (that should go without saying, but you can’t walk the gemba without your safety glasses or PPE).

    One final thought — in an earlier post, Mike said that the VP was sometimes asked by employees, “Why are you spending your time out here?” as if they thought he was too important to spend time there or he should be working on more important things. The VP’s answer was, “because I have standard work, as you do, and my standard work says to do this.” That answer’s OK, but you really should be able to give a better (or more inspiring) reason than “because I have to.” Talk about how valuable it is to see what’s really happening and reference some of the above points. It’s actually a sign of a positive work culture that people feel comfortable to ask their leaders “why?”

  5. 1) WHY did the vice president decide to take the walk every day?
    was it his decision to do so or was it your efforts into making him do so?
    – Our VP has been very proactive with Lean implementation. Very early on, he learned that his “thoughts” of Lean weren’t as well-founded as they should be. I think he’s read more Lean books than I have now, as he is trying to understand the system. I did initiate the walk, but he directed everyone else to participate and saw the value in it.

    2) what information does the vice president want to collect from the shop floor, which he cannot obtain through his sub ordinate or other management heads?
    – He gets an unaltered view of the production flow activities, not “watered-down” or “sugar-coated” by someone who’s trying to either impress him or keep him from hearing anything negative. He also gets to interract with Supervision and Labor (he is a natural people-person, so he likes the contact). He knows most everyone in the facility by first name. He also gets the information every day, not in a summary too late to act on. He has talked with line employees during the walk and added product to their mix, complimenting them in the process that this cell is the only way to meet customer delivery and win back lost customers. That is an immeasurable morale boost.

    3) how does this activity contribute to the company profits?
    – Again, there are “soft” benefits. The morale boost above is worth its weight in gold. It also personalizes the process, not some cold, hard numbers that “bean counters” are concerned with. The last thing I have noted, when customers come in (previous, current, or future), he will take them on a plant tour. That tour involves an extensive visit at the first cell. That cell’s metrics are visible for all to see and the employees are available to answer customer’s questions. It is an act of pride for them. It doesn’t matter if the customer doesn’t purchase that product line, as we are moving in that direction with all products. When you take a line that was delivering 70% with suspect dates (we moved them out all the time) and improve delivery to 98% with lead-times reduced from 6 weeks (for any product) to 3-day or 15-day guarantee (depending on product type), that wins customers…especially when they see operators so actively involved with the VP.


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