What is Gemba?

The word gemba (sometimes spelled as genba) is a Japanese term literally translated as “the real place.”

In maintenance, it can mean “where the value is generated.” This usually refers to either the factory floor or the work area where all maintenance tasks are completed.

A gemba walk is therefore an on-site inspection of a facility, with the goal of observing and understanding the process. This is usually done by people in leadership roles such as managers and executives.

Gemba and its role in total productive maintenance

Gemba is sometimes partnered with total productive maintenance (TPM), although the two terms are very distinct in meaning and usage. Gemba focuses on facility observation, continuous improvement, problem solving, and the opportunity to add value to a team. Gemba and TPM are similar to the kaizen methodology, and are terms often used in relation to one another since they all focus on productivity in maintenance.

Total productive maintenance is a strategy where everyone in the facility participates in maintenance, rather than just the maintenance team. All levels, from executive to junior technician, contribute to the overall maintenance effort in some way.

In such a strategy, executives, managers, and supervisors can perform gemba walks to gain perspective and further understanding of the state of a facility, and to confirm things they see in their reports.

Elements of a gemba walk

Any productive gemba walk (otherwise known as a gemba visit) will have the following elements:


Gemba walks are not random inspections. While a walk can uncover something unexpected, they always begin with a specific question that needs to be answered. For example, the questions might be, how well organized is the MRO inventory stockroom?

Face-to-face interactions

All plant managers on a gemba walk should consult with their staff on the shop floor to get their perspectives on the operations and maintenance of the facility. This will help leadership determine the true state of operations and whether the reports they’re receiving are complete and accurate. It also gives the leadership team some insight into improvement opportunities, process improvement, workplace safety, and where waste can be reduced.


Gemba walks are only effective if the plant’s leaders actually act on what they discover. Maintenance managers should carefully assess the insights they collect throughout the walk, and then work to implement changes that will either reduce risks and costs, or increase efficiency and safety.

How to do a gemba walk in maintenance

Here are some tips on how to conduct an effective gemba walk:

Establish a regular time for gemba walks

A gemba walk is not a surprise inspection. Set a regular time and cadence for gemba walks and announce it to the team so that they have time to prepare. Be clear and honest about the purpose of the gemba walks so that workers don’t think they are being placed under a microscope and judged.

Focus on one area at a time

Each gemba walk should focus on one specific area or aspect of your maintenance operations. Use a gemba walk checklist to look for common improvement opportunities. For example, one inspection might focus on safety signage on the manufacturing floor, while the next will focus on stockroom organization.

Observe, don’t judge

The purpose of a gemba walk is to collect information, not to correct people. Corrections can come later, once all data has been gathered and analyzed. Correcting people right away will distract from the main purpose of the gemba walk and turn it into a fault-finding expedition.

Openly share insights

Don’t restrict all of the learnings to just management. Instead, release your findings to the rest of the employees—especially those who contributed. Your team will feel more ownership towards the process and be more forthcoming on the next Gemba walk, which will in turn become more insightful and valuable in improving your maintenance process.

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Gemba reduces waste and adds value to the factory floor

Gemba is a great way for any maintenance facility to focus on process improvement, reducing waste, and gives employees the confidence to be part of the entire work process with their leaders.

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