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From the Forums: SHOULD You Sweat the Small Stuff on Gemba Walks?

by Lean Leaper
August 16, 2017

From the Forums: SHOULD You Sweat the Small Stuff on Gemba Walks?

by Lean Leaper
August 16, 2017 | Comments (3)

Recently the editors of the Lean Post found this question being discussed in the forums at lean.org:

"How should a manager react to non-conformances that he/she encounters during a gemba walk? e.g. 

  • 5S: a forklift not standing in its designated zone
  • discipline: workers leaving 2 min. early for coffee break

Gemba is all about asking instead of telling, but I can't imagine that goes for such kind of observations. But what is then the right thing to do? a dozen of "small" non-conformities can easily be seen during a walk, especially in organizations where lean maturity is still quite low. If you need to react to each and every one of them, then the Gemba has become a process and discipline audit. But If you don't react, then you tolerate. Please share your experiences about this this."

An interesting question about a fundamental lean tool. We've all heard our senseis tell us, "Don't get caught up in the little mistakes on gemba walks - just observe and focus on the bigger picture." But don't the little things still account for part of the problem? Do they fix themselves when you resolve the bigger problem? Should you come back to them later? 

Here are some of the insightful responses our community has already posted:

"I think that it really depends on the issue. A safety or quality issue should be addressed immediately, otherwise the employees in the area will interpret a lack of immediate reaction as acceptance. How you respond to personnel issues will depend on how your organization is structured. In my case I would ask the employees' immediate supervisor what was going on with the longer breaks."


"Starting with the question 'why?' is pretty powerful.  

'I notice the forklift isn't parked where the designated spot is. Why is that?'

'I notice your team members leave early for coffee break. Why do they do that?'

Perhaps there are good reasons. Perhaps not, but start a dialog and try to do it assuming you do not know the answer. Don't sound accusing, but inquisitive; genuinely want to know the answer."


"It does need to be addressed. Now, if you are the front line manager, you will need to address the employees responsible for the non-conforming 5s issues and extended breaks. If you are boss address the mangers in charge of the areas. You are not disciplining them. You are making them aware you have noticed the non-conforming issues. Safety issues are a different story."

It's all up for debate - and we want to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment and let us know how YOU handle small non-conformances on your gemba walks.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  gemba,  leadership
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3 Comments | Post a Comment
Dave Wakeman August 16, 2017

As Gemba is about asking and learning... try asking:

"What standards are we trying to adhere to here?"

"How do you know when we are off standard?"

"How are these standards maintained in this area?"

The point is you are not letting the small details go, but asking questions to help the team learn to improve ;-)


Reply »

Frank Castillo August 16, 2017

As Dave & Aaron pointed out, if you ask the questions "Is that a normal or abnormal condition? What is your standard", you get people to think as oppose to have them get defensive. No matter how bad the conditions are at the shop floor, you also need to give them some sugar & reinforce those things that they are doing right.

Reply »

Claire Everett August 16, 2017

I think it's important to acknowledge all nonconformances, as Carmen said, if you don't then this can be seen as acceptance. 

But how you react is important, it should be appropriate to the size of the non-conformance and you should enquire about what is happening.  This should not be a matter of issuing discipline but instead you should be asking questions that are about finding out why the nonconformance occured.  Perhaps there is a standard in place that needs to be changed and you have observed a workaround, perhaps a standard has not been communicated etc.

Ignoring non-conformances doesn't advance the learning in the organization but neither does accusations.  Done well, raising all non-conformances can and should advance learning, open dialogue and ensure the voice of the people doing the process is heard.

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