Please contact S A Partners for more details. GET IN TOUCH


Gemba walks and Leader Standard Work (LSW) have the power to transform organizational culture.

Done well, they ensure a presence and engagement with managers and leaders at every tier of the organization.

We support organisations on their journey to enterprise excellence and sustainable business results. Our belief is that true enterprise excellence can only be delivered by engaged, well trained and aligned people working within well designed systems and processes.
One of the most powerful business systems we develop to help organizations improve and reach their potential is LSW with Gemba Walks at its heart.
Gemba Walks
Gemba Walks have been popularized by a number of thought leaders such as Jim Womack in “Gemba Walks” and Michael Bremer in “How to do a Gemba Walk” (two great books worth looking at). The practice originated within Toyota as a critical part of their standard work practices.

The Gemba Walk is a powerful tool, but to use it effectively, it is important to understand its purpose and how this element fits within the wider LSW system. When we understand the purpose, we can then define the interactions and behaviors necessary to achieve this purpose.

According to W Edwards Deming (1993):

image of W E dwards Deming ‘A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of that system. The aim of that system must be clear to everyone in the system”

LSW ensures leaders within an organization develop and maintain the right culture and performance by supporting and undertaking the right activities, in the right style and at the right location.  Gemba Walks are a tool to help leaders achieve this.


In organizations, we talk about work systems and having standards for those work systems and processes. Any well-designed system will consist of several component elements.  These elements will include standards that detail how procedures or policies work. There will be reports outlining how the system itself is performing.  The system will also define: the necessary patterns of repeatable activities; a feedback mechanism; and how opportunities for continuous improvement are captured.
Under pining all these components are expectations on the required ideal behaviors the system should enable.


The purpose of LSW and Gemba walks is to ensure standardization and improvement in both the physical nature of the work and the underlying culture and behavior necessary to ensure ideal and consistent results. The core element of LSW is the interaction between people and the identification of those common and sometimes unique coaching moments. These coaching moments allow leaders the opportunity to understand the alignment between expectations, capability and understanding. They also provide an opportunity to observe the presence, or absence of, ideal behaviors.

LSW achieves its purpose in several ways:

  • By defining the roles and responsibilities of Leaders at all levels
  • Ensuring that activities are standardized and consistently checked and reinforced.
  • Recognizing people’s contribution to success through the improvement of standards.
  • Identifying and acting on coaching and development opportunities within a pattern of regular habitual activities.

Designed well and embraced appropriately by all team members, LSW will engaged the whole organization in delivering its purpose.

The Components of the LSW System

Whether an activity involves making a product, supporting a critical asset or delivering a service, the LSW system has 4 main components:

  1. Management meeting systems or rhythm: For example, daily huddles, weekly action and idea review meetings
  2. Standard work audits (Gemba) – checking compliance to a standard of work
  3. Personal standard work commitments – choreographed patterns of work that are repetitive and habitual in nature.
  4. One to one coaching and development – performance review meetings and development conversations

The Role of Human Interactions in the LSW System

The differentiator between the LSW and other systems (such as Learning & Development or Continuous Improvement) is that it focuses less on results and more on the necessary behaviors and standards required to achieve the results.

How we talk and listen to people is the basis of human interaction. How we communicate and convey messages to colleagues has a profound effect on how people ultimately feel and behave. It can also impact the quality of subsequent interactions they have with their own colleagues.

It is important to understand that the purpose of the system is to facilitate the interactions which support, and enable ideal behaviors. These are the behaviors that an organization needs to see in order to deliver the desired sustainable results it seeks.  Gemba Walks (and the conversations and coaching moments that are created as a result of this activity) must focus on getting the balance right between confirming standardization, individual development and improvement opportunities.

Benefits of LSW

 This system is one of the pivotal parts of any Excellence journey.  Done well, it has the ability to standardize and systemize leadership interactions and expectations in relation to culture and observed behaviors.  LSW eliminates guess work in relation to what a leader should be doing and by implication, it identifies what a leader should not be doing.

LSW also promotes the discipline of having consistent and repeatable habits both in daily and weekly routines but also in how leaders respond to challenges and non-conformance.  Leaders become more comfortable with the ‘compliance conversations’ which are backed up by actions and followed-up within the routine.

There is an expectation that the emphasis of a leader’s standard work may change. Team leaders should focus on how standard work procedures function to deliver consistent results, whilst senior leaders should focus on how people behave, how they interact with each other and how they can be developed.

In summary, LSW is a powerful lever to influence culture, activity, and team capability. It moves the focus on to behaviors, by defining the role of leaders in the development of observable ideal behaviors. It sets the expectations for the leader’s own performance and behavior as it clearly defines the things a leader must do habitually. And finally, patterns of standard work should interlock to ensure senior leaders review activity across tiers and functions within the organization.

The Gemba Walk

At the core of the Gemba walk is the servant leadership model where the senior leaders’ role is to ensure teams have the tools, systems and support necessary to succeed in their task. It also provides the opportunity to coach and develop teams
to help them define meet their challenges.

“Data is of course important, but I place the greatest emphasis on facts. You cannot understand if you have not seen…. The Gemba is a reflection of management”

Taiichi Ohno


The message behind this quote is clear – leaders cannot lead remotely. They need to see the patterns, get the facts firsthand and see what is really happening on the ground. This is one of the powerful aspects of the Toyota Way.


At the heart of Lean thinking is the need to undertake detailed observations of systems and processes.  The famous Taiichi Ohno observation circle which was the origin of Five S springs to mind. The Gemba Walk is just that a detailed observation of the systems and processes operating within an organization.

What is a Gemba Walk?

It is a horizontal journey along the value stream of a business which shows how value is created by following systems or processes as they move through initial creation to completion. It is the best way to truly understand what is happening within an organization and enhances knowledge and insight.

Gemba is the actual place where value is created such as design centers, the manufacturing floor, testing labs, distribution centers, operating rooms, warehousing, service functions and goods receiving stores.  Gemba provides the opportunity to confirm that practices are as described, meet the required standards and that the development opportunities, both in terms of practice and people, are being acted on.

Gemba Walks are not a window dressing exercise but, contrary to its name, they are about standing and observing people and practices. They are not intended to catch people out, and should definitely not be used as a form of management control. They are not about commanding or disciplining.  Nor is it a process where leaders gather and take on problems and try to solve them on behalf of their team.

At the Gemba the leader is not responsible for the problem,
but they are responsible for the quality and intensity
of the conversations about the problem.

It is fundamentally an opportunity to serve, coach and develop people and includes the process of Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) which itself will promote continuous improvement to ensure standards are complied with.

Since we learn by doing and we learn the more we do, the better and more insightful we become as we continue to habitually practice. The result will be improved conversations in a more respectful and trusting environment which is one of the foundations of Enterprise Excellence.

Gemba Walk Graphic

Implementing the Gemba Walk

To get the best from the Gemba Walk activity, it must be planned in a systematic and organized way. The following steps set out a structured approach:

  • Define the purpose of the interaction: Know why it is being done. Possible reasons could be to habitually visit people on the shop floor in order to control and standardize or to visit the workplace to talk and support people who want to create and add value.
  • Engage associates in advance: The Gemba walk should not be a surprise. People should be aware of the time, place, pattern and frequency of the visits
  • Agree and define the scope of the area(s) of the value stream that are to be visited.
  • Coach the walk participants before doing the walk: Since interaction is at the heart of the Gemba thought needs to be put into about how leaders will talk to people and the kind of questions they will ask.

Types of Gemba Walks

  • The standard work audits: This focuses on developing and maintaining standards through coaching. The Gemba Walk follows the flow of the service or product. The work audit occurs several times a day and is attended by all levels of management
  • One to one development: This focuses on improving standards through coaching. The Gemba walk is focused on one area at a time. There is a planned approach to the one-to-one development sessions which occur at planned intervals and is attended by various levels of management.
  • System review: Here we focus on particular systems and process such as how we identify and solve problems. How we drive improvement. How we implement effective process change.  How we manage and improve the safety health and welfare of our teams.

It is essential to note that there can be no improvement if there are no standards to improve against. Without standards, variation and chaos thrives.

Focusing on interactions

The most important place where leaders need to be spending their time is where real value is created. This is the essence of the Gemba Walk. It is not about the visit but about leaders developing themselves and others, understanding the process, issues, and people, gaining insight into what is really happening on the ground and servant leadership.

It is therefore important that conversations are skillfully delivered in ways that make people think, feel and act in productive ways. To do this we consider you use tools such as Soundwave or Acoustic Management Techniques which will ensure you:

  • Ask exploratory questions to discover more:
    • What is the process?
    • What is working well or not so well?
    • What is creating strain or stress?
    • How are people feeling at work?
  • Tell directly and calmly to get positive outcomes or to reaffirm expected standards.
  • Suggest in a way and manner that allows for another’s point of view.

In conclusion, Gemba Walks are a tool that help Leaders promote a culture of continuous improvement by focusing on ideal observable behaviors and seeking opportunities for personal improvement and development within their teams.

This is a result of creating a deep insight into people, process and performance firsthand. It is aligned to the Servant Leadership philosophy pioneered by Blanchard – which focuses on engaging teams, promoting confidence and morale through coaching and communication.

Written by John Quirke & Robin Jaques

You can also view the Leader Standard Work and Gemba Walks webinar presented by John Quirke which covered the following:

  • Gemba walk is a tool within a system
  • Leader Standard Work (LSW) is the system
  • LSW interacts across many systems
  • What’s is the purpose of the system LSW
  • What interactions or behaviours support the aim of LSW as a System & inform Gemba walks
 Leadership Skills & Training

Leadership Skills & Training

Find out how we can support your Leadership & Continuous Improvement Programmes.

Systems Consulting

Systems Consulting

Supporting your organisation to achieve Enterprise Excellence.

Latest Resources

Latest Resources

S A Partners continues to invest in industry research to support our customers.

Events & Workshops

Events & Workshops

Supporting your learning Journey - delivering workshops and Shingo Prize guidance