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Vishwadeep Khatri



Gemba in lean terminology refers to the place where value is created. Gemba walk refers to a lean management technique where the leaders and/or managers visit the shop floor with an agenda to learn something new about the process, see it in action, understand how value is being created, interact with the operators, reflect on the learnings and collaboratively improve the process. 


Management by Walking Around (MBWA)


Management by Walking Around (MBWA) is the casual walking around of the leaders and/or managers on the shop floor (most commonly also known as the floor walk). There is no pre-set agenda for the walk. It is done to have a look around the shop floor, greet the operators, boost their morale and to make the leadership presence felt. 


These two are often considered to be the same, however, both are fundamentally different in their design and approach. 


An application-oriented question on the topic along with responses can be seen below. The best answer was provided by Somrita Chatterjee on 20th November 2018. 


Also review the answer provided by Mr Venugopal R, Benchmark Six Sigma's in-house expert


Applause for all the respondents - Dadakhalandar Shaik, Bharath Ratakonda, R Rajesh, Venkata Kantambatlu, Antony Vinod, Ferdoz Yunis. 




Q. 110  Gemba Walk was developed at Toyota while Management By Walking Around (MBWA) traces its origin to HP. Two world class companies using two methodologies where managers walk the shopfloor. Is it just a case of having different names or are the two fundamentally different? Elaborate with suitable examples. 



Note for website visitors - Two questions are asked every week on this platform. One on Tuesday and the other on Friday.


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Gemba Study



Gemba is a Process Walk, as an informational tour of the area where the work is taking place. Gemba Walk is a series of structured, on-site interviews with representative process participants and SPOCs’ with the goal of gaining a comprehensive understanding of the process. In a service based industry, interviews focus on detail such as process time, wait time, defect rates, root causes and other information that can lead to targeted improvements. It also helps in knowing the process environment and the work culture of the process.

Gemba walks should not be confused with (MBWA), a different approach in which leaders simply wander about and get involved in what employees are doing. A Gemba walk should have a defined purpose, often associated with a specific concern related to a KPI or in other words, GEMBA walks are more of process driven.

During a Gemba Walk, the concerned person asks very depth about the process being observed. Who is involved? What materials are used? What do you do? How do you know what to do? When does the task take place? What depends on the outcome? MBWA does not involve that degree of depth, nor does it usually have the same focus on asking open ended questions.

Considering Service Industries as an example:

The various steps involved in a basic Gemba Walk can be:

                  1)  Prepare the Team

        It is important that the team members get prepared beforehand. Talking about the walk before the walk happens will help everyone feel more comfortable and open to  interactions.

2)       Have a plan or a strategy

It is important that the supervisor has planned his questions before he approaches the people in the team.

                  3)      Trying to follow the Value Stream Flow

It is a good idea to ask employees about shift timings, work nature, hand offs between processes, targets, SLA, client meetings and calls. By having a fresh perspective on the old processes, it gives a perspective that it is helpful for them and not to criticize them negatively.

                  4)      Don’t suggest much changes during the Walk or in any meeting

                           It is not much a good idea to suggest changes and advice during the walk is happening. It is always better to go for suggestions later in terms of documented  work or visualization tools (photos and video)

                          5)     Document the observations

                            It is always a good idea to jot down the observations about the process, current interventions and then proposed solutions with the study. It will keep everyone on the same page before and after the study has been made.

                          6)     Follow Ups with the Employees

                    It is important that once the proposed solutions are suggested, managers and senior management should involve in the changes and should be supportive to the employees as well. This helps in establishing the workplace connectivity and knowledge enhancement to themselves.


Potential Areas of improvement that can be identified as:

Work Force Management & Staff Utilization

·         Resource Utilization –  Improving the Efficiency of the process overall

·         Login Leakage – Not an issue –if there is gap then agent to recover within the same month

·         Cross-Training – To mitigate the staff short fall and also in case of BCP situation 

Resourcing (Support & Management Staff)

·         Cross skill of Resources

·         Strengthen the QA calibration process

·         Quality tools and analysis/documentation exposures

·         Improvement exposures in terms of technology /Human improvements

Floor Management

·         Daily updates and dialogue with the agents

·         Visual management on floor

·         Floor support by Team Lead

·         Noise on the floor needs to be in controlled.


·          Improvement is main focus area – Not meeting consistently the target (monthly , quarterly)

·         Attrition rate in the process

·         Customer satisfaction scores and TAT








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Benchmark Six Sigma's MBB Expert Response (not contesting)


I have been fortunate to have had rich work experience with organizations imbibing Japanese and Western management styles. I would not want to come to any conclusion as to which is better…. I find positives in both approaches and finally, it is the effective blend of best practices, applied with cognizance that gives the result.


Whether we talk Gemba or MBWA, it depends on the manner in which they are practised that would make a difference. Both mean that we need to visit the work place. Both mean that we need to interact with people who are closest to the production and who touch the products. Both mean that we need to focus on continuous improvement.


I am not sure what thoughts many of you would get when you hear these terms. But let me express mine.


When I hear Gemba, it denotes “Roll up your sleeves and gets down to the workplace”. If it is a manufacturing floor, go near the production area, the machines and the people who are at the work spot under consideration. If we are talking about sales, go to the show room or sales counters where actual handshake with customers is happening and participate in the sales process. If it is a case of IT services, go and sit down in front of the monitor, by the side of the processors who are processing the transactions or doing a testing etc. Getting a ‘hands-on’ feel of the work and empathising with the people engaged in the work to understand the ground reality is what Gemba is all about. Gemba visits may be done any time as required and need not be as per a scheduled time table.


The MBWA gives me a feeling of getting an overall view about what goes on in the actual workplaces. They are more structured and planned visits by senior leaders, mostly accompanied by the concerned area supervisors. Here the senior leaders may do an assessment of the processes as per a systematic schedule/checklist or it could be an ad-hoc assessment. Unlike Gemba, MBWA doesn’t give a feel of ‘rolling up sleeves’ and working, but more of ‘higher level’ observations, assessments and understanding. Observations are made on the spot and the issues are heard and seen at the workplaces and questions are asked on the spot to people who are closest to the work spot. Senior leaders visiting the workplace instils seriousness and sense of importance in the minds of the people at the workplace; be it a shop floor, sales and service counter, call centre or IT services.


Which is better, Gemba or MBWA?


Considering the above discussion and understanding, both need to be practised. There is a need for structured MBWA as well as Gemba visits by senior leaders. Both have common benefits as well as specific benefits.

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Gemba and MBWA are fundamentally different even though they are used by two best manufacturing companies( Two big companies that are still practiced MBWA today Hewlett Packard & Kingston Technologies) &MBWA is also called as Management By Wandering Around, in which managers spend most of their time  in shop floor & initiate face to face interactions with key employee about the potential problems.


In real cases, there is always conflict among three cases in shop floor operations.They are:

1.what's management thought process ( optimistic, imagined 100% success rate)

2. What's  the actual process exhibiting(As Is condition, less than 100%)

3. What's the data log/data sheet represents(may be  affected by human factors & results in data deviation in most cases)


Employee involvement, approach to root cause identification & its analysis , scope for improvement & its action planning and implementaion are the major parameters, which diffrentiate Gemba & MBWA.


The actual meaning of Gemba is the actual work place where the value is creating & it is process driven approach, whereas MBWA is unstructured appoach to hands on & direct participation of managers to interact directly with their subordinates or line leaders & exchanging information what is going on. It is an expert driven approach. 


Gemba involves all levels of employee in shop floor & extract latent data ( hidden data which is difficult to capture) by interviewing operators about the real problems along with suspected source of variations & empowered them in providing better solutions by involving them in brainstorming session. 


In real cases, it is difficult to identify real problems, it's  root causes & mainly the sustenance of  solutions without involving bottom level employee. For this, Gemba is one of significant methodology which involves people & management for the scope of improvent by observing, recording, inspecting the data through frequent visits to streamline & devaition free data  (Ref S.No.1, 2 & 3) followed by root cause analysis, provision & frequent inspection of visual controls, frontline workforce involvement & empowerment for the sustenance of feasible & reliable solutions.




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- Structured Approach 
- Can Collect Qualitative and Quantitative
- Systematic Walk (By knowing our Purpose, Place, Framework and Validate it)
- Focus on Process not on People 


- Unstructured Approach 
- Can Collect Qualitative Information 
- Random Walk (Just like Wandering in Workplace and Talking to people) 
- Focus on People 


There is no much functional difference on both things but the outcome of Gemba Walk can be differ from MBWA outcomes as Gemba Walk is structured approach.


So can say MBWA is subset of Gemba Walk. 


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Let us see the two approaches of Floor walking by management teams.


Gemba :  It is a Japanese word meaning "Real Place".

Gemba Walk: Imagine, everyday you do our job routinely and life goes on. One day , you are doing your work and to your surprise, you find your project manager, portfolio manager or department head, SMEs come to your place and understand more about the work from you as how you go about doing it. This is what Gemba walk is all about. Here a focused effort is made on the part of the management team to understand how work is actually happening, from the operators/team members's perspective. What are the challenges that are there and what are the opportunities for improvement.


MBWA:  This is another approach of floor walking by management team. Here the focus is not specific to a particular activity or process or type of work, unlike Gemba walk. But it focuses on managers checking with employees on the fly, about the work they do and provide more often than not , some suggestions  and do not indulge much in probing questions/queries. This often may not produce the necessary result.


There are some differences between these 2 approaches.



Examples of Gemba Walk: 

Imagine in an IT company, you are working in your desk. Your Technical architect, Solution Architect, Portfolio Manager, GL walks through the floor and have a discussion with you. You are explaining your application and convey the fact that multiple vendors are working on that project and you dont have control over the performance of the application as that part is not owned by your organisation. You say that Performance of few features is time consuming (and you are consuming those features for proceeding with your work). This is hampering your functionalities or work.  Now you have given your observation, the management team(and other stakeholders) will take cognisance of this and will come up with some action plan.


Examples of MBWA:

Imagine you are in an IT company. The mgmt team along with other relevant stakeholders does a walk of the floor. They come to your place (hop over to your desk) and ask about how things are moving. You tell shift constraint (afternoon shift) as an issue due to lack of machine in the team. They suggest your lead to change your shift to day time (suggestions are made rather than with probing questions  that can go address the root cause). The caravan goes and the next person is being asked for issues .



Looking at both the approaches and their benefits , one can conveniently say that Gemba Walk is superior. There is something called Gemba Kaizen , which does help in continuous improvement as well. 

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Gemba refers to work place investigation, where, investigation is focused on a particular topic by concerned stakeholders and some statistical tools like 5why is used to gather data which will be used for root cause analysis. Example- A manufacturing process where a particular process parameter is out of control limits and DPMO is spiked for the targets                                          MBWA refers to work place visit by managers not in particular but in general to ensure there are no surprises on the current process  is seen. Just a new eye on the process and people. Example- Shopfloor vist by managers during shift change over or product change over in the line

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Gemba walk is a management technique where a manager gets the insight of an employee or a team member for further improvement in the process wherein the employees provide details about the procedures followed in the execution of the process. By getting to know the various procedural obstacles, a manager can take a qualitative initiative to eradicate these obstacles for smooth run of the process.


William Hewlett and David Packard, founders of HP (Hewlett Packard) famously used this approach of MBWA – Management by Wandering Around. This method is useful for Managers and employees rapport building and would ultimately lead to process improvement. Edwards Deming, called the father of Quality Evolution, introduced the concept of MBWA.


Fundamentally both the concepts of Gemba Walk and MBWA are related to employee engagement in the continuous improvement of the process. Both the methodologies are adopted by reputed organizations for the purpose of micro-management.


For Instance, in the Night Shift Operating processes in Business Process Outsourcing inbound and outbound processes, these two management techniques of Gemba walk and MBWA is very useful for effective communication between managers and employees and also to keep an intact observation over the employee processing areas as the concentration levels of few employees would be low while working in the night shift which lead to quality issues in processing which can be effectively taken care by the managers with the help of these management techniques.

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Both Gemba and MBWA allow leadership face time on the shop floor, however both are different in terms of the approach. Gemba has a very well structured approach that requires planning while MBWA can be done on the fly. 


Somrita Chatterjee has provided the best answer. She has provided details of the differences in the approach along with an example on how Gemba can help identify opportunities on the shop floor.


R Rajesh has also cited an example from service industry highlighting the difference in the two. Khalandar's response is also a good read to understand the 'real issues' on the shop floor.

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