“Management By Walking Around” vs. “Gemba Walks”


It's important not to confuse a proper Lean “gemba walk” with the idea of “management by walking around” (MBWA).  What did the late, great Dr. W. Edwards Deming say in 1982?

‘Management by walking around' is hardly ever effective. The reason is that someone in management, walking around, has little idea about what questions to ask, and usually does not pause long enough at any spot to get the right answer.”

-W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis

In the last manufacturing company I worked for, one of the production managers was very proud of how he would start each day by flying through and shaking hands with each of his employees. I guess this was well intended, but he was always in such a rush, he never paused in one spot very long. This was classic MBWA. He had about 30 employees to greet. This company had stripped out a layer of supervisors in the misguided idea that they were “non value added.” This poor guy couldn't manage 30 people effectively, no matter how hard he tried. That wasn't his fault. It was a structural problem.

In their attempts to “be Lean,” I guess they never studied the Toyota model where there's a working team leader for every 5 to 8 employees and a group leader for every few team leaders. They had stripped out the team leader type level, so of course things weren't managed properly and there wasn't any continuous improvement, other than the changes I could push as an internal Lean person. This was a bad model and I was glad I got out of that company.

As Lean spreads in healthcare, be careful to practice “gemba walks,” not “management by walking around.” Study the Toyota model. Read Norman Bodek's article. Read Quint Studer's work on “rounding for outcomes” (a great thing to read whether you are in healthcare or not). Studer emphasizes stopping to truly ENGAGE with employees, not just slapping them on the back. Bonus – read Jamie Flinchbaugh's IndustryWeek piece on effective gemba walks.

What are your lessons learned about effective gemba walks? What would you hope your organization's leaders do to make a gemba walk an effective exercise… not just calorie-burning exercise?

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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. There’s a lot that goes into effective gemba walks. Joe Murli put the pieces together very nicely in his webinar “Integrating Visual Management & Management Standard Work” (link to the LEI webinar archive – I highly recommend taking the 45 min to view this).

    What’s the difference from “Management By Walking Around”? Murli’s slide in which the “walking” MBWA manager says “I wish I had my reports with me!” captures a critical element. In the lean workplace the visual evidence of what should be happening and what is actually happening is ever-present, so a walk can be an effective tool.

    The videos of ThedaCare from Fox that you’ve linked to in the past display this nicely in a healthcare setting. Standard presentations of condition, metrics, progress, etc., are visible in the working unit. Actual and physical, not virtual. The manager can walk in, see the reported condition, look around and see the actual condition at that moment, and engage unit staff in a meaningful conversation.

  2. Great points Mark! You would be surprised at how much “waste” one can find by not only taking a proper gemba walk, but to also take time to stop at one point and just be still. Operators think its funny when they see me out on the production floor just staring for long periods of time, but the benefits are endless!

  3. Mark, My organization is starting a pilot unit to demonstrate the possibilities for lean. Before an outsider can visit the unit they will have to take a brief and simple assessment training where they will learn appropriate questions to ask. The obvious purpose is to sharpen the visitor’s ability to see on the model unit but the secondary motivation is for them to see differently when they go back to their home. For similar reasons we are providing the assessment training to a group of nurses and nurse leaders prior to their visit to a hospital more advanced in their lean journey.

    • Thanks for sharing, Bart. I love the idea of a “pilot unit” rather than trying to “make the whole hospital lean.” Start small, have success, and get others to come and see… an on-site site visit. I remember talking about this before and I’m glad you are still using that strategy… and the idea of learning what questions to ask is brilliant.

  4. Very well put. Explaining the practices that make the actions successful rather than the terms used. I have no problem criticizing management practices – I am probably on the far end of the critical spectrum. But I do get annoyed at the “x practice” (from some overall management system I don’t like is bad) and “y practice” is good.

    I think failure to execute well is often much more than 50% of the problem. Some practices are so bad that doing them at all is almost certainly a mistake. Many other practices are fine depending on how you do them.

    MBWA is useless and worse, harmful, if done in some cursory manner. Your explanation of why gemba walks work is the key. If someone wanted to adopt those ideas in their MBWA program that would be fine. That wouldn’t be great, because you lose out, if you fail to tie management ideas to their surrounding management system. http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2011/04/18/problems-with-management-and-business-books/

    • Thanks, John. You’re right that it’s the use of the method (or lack thereof) that is the problem.

      Having physical printed checklists don’t mean squat if they aren’t being used.

      Daily team huddles are a waste of time if there’s no good discussion or if they are 30 seconds long just to be able to check the box to say “yeah, we had a huddle today.”

  5. All great comments here. Patrick’s comment about operators thinking it is funny to see him staring for a long time is something I have experienced often. Most recently, I spent a shift and a half observing a welding and assembly cell. The individual who hired me asked what I observed and why I spent as much time as I did. When I gave him a summary of the insight I gained, he commented that he needs more people willing invest the time on Gemba.

    During one of my Gemba walks, an operator who was not familiar with what I was working on and why, asked me “what the f— do you do here and what is your job title. How can I get your job?”

    This past weekend, I spent time listening to a Jesuit Priest / Zen Buddist Roshi talk about the parallels and intersections of those two distinct belief systems. In my mind, I kept coming back to Lean and Gemba walks.

    Look, don’t see. Listen, don’t hear.

  6. […] “Management By Walking Around” vs. “Gemba Walks” by Mark Graban – “Study the Toyota model. Read Norman Bodek’s article. Read Quint Studer’s work on “rounding for outcomes” (a great thing to read whether you are in healthcare or not). Studer emphasizes stopping to truly engage with employees, not just slapping them on the back. Bonus – read Jamie Flinchbaugh’s IndustryWeek piece on effective gemba walks.” […]

  7. Hi, Management by walking is for hospital maintenance or different from that. some many software is developed for hospital management system and health care software for hospital , By this software hospital getting usefull.


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