Gemba is a Japanese term referring to the place where the actual work is done, or value is created. In the manufacturing field this could be the worksite or factory floor where the product is developed and manufactured. In the service field Gemba is the place where the service is provided - it could be the retail space where sales people do the actual selling, or the point of contact with a customer at a call center. Lean process theory holds that the best improvements and solutions are most often found by going to the Gemba, or ‘to the source’.
In the ‘Gemba Walk’, managers get out of their offices and walk through the different departments to observe how work is being done. This is not meant to be a formal inspection, but an informal “getting to know” exercise where the manager’s task is to simply listen and learn from the employees about any problems they are having and how their work might be simplified. This allows for decisions to be based on facts, instead of relying on second hand information or opinion. By witnessing the everyday issues faced by employees in the workplace first-hand and seeing the work-arounds in real time, the manager will have a better idea of how to solve problems and make incremental improvements in work flows. This is a critical part of any continuous process improvement effort.