Gemba Walk: Identify Work Instructions as a Critical Component of Your Operation

By: Shannon Bennett

Friday, April 8th 2016

Gemba Walk

Objectivity for business leaders is increasingly important because it helps provide a perspective on their business that is deeply rooted in reality. The challenge for many business leaders, however, is actually achieving this clarity. In the context of this article, let’s assume when referring to business leaders, we are talking about any leader in an organization where humans are involved in processes that create value for a customer.

Whether this leader is a front-line Supervisor, Department Manager, Plant Manager or Executive, the challenge is the same… Get to where the work is happening so you understand how the business actually operates, rather than making assumptions. This practice is technically referred to as a Gemba Walk.

One important guideline of the Gemba Walk is to limit the scope or theme of each walk to a single purpose, so you can remain focused and not dilute your findings with the noise of all the other observations. A great place to start is validating the presence, applicability and use of work instructions.

VKS Work Instruction

Work instructions are defined by ASQ ( as a sequence of steps to execute a task or activity, and the importance of maintaining accurate, clear and easily accessible documentation cannot be overstated. Below are some of the more significant benefits, but keep in mind the list is not complete. Work instructions done well will certainly…

  • Help ensure consistent processes, or methods are applied to the operation & value stream
  • Support training initiatives by providing real time learning when and where the work is being performed
  • Mitigate the impact of a contract workforce or high turnover rates that have become typical in operational settings
  • Provide the baseline for Kaizen, or continuous improvement efforts like Lean Six Sigma as well as being the best method for deploying improvements

Too often, business leaders, engineers or quality team members assume that the time they invested in the creation of work instructions means operations will use them to do their job better, reduce defects, improve productivity, etc.

Work Instruction

Discovering the reality can be a painful realization and without asking the right questions, a leader may believe it’s simply a people problem that needs to be solved through progressive discipline. Again, the value of a properly executed Gemba Walk can help in this situation by identifying the actual reason work instructions are not being used.

The causes are many, but generally fall within a few common failures, including…

  • Outdated or not consistently maintained, resulting in irrelevance

    • Tribal knowledge takes over because it is perceived as superior
  • Access to work instructions perceived as difficult

    • Operators resort to tribal knowledge because it’s perceived as too time consuming to access work instuctions
  • Design and format not perceived to add value

    • Not visually oriented, excessive text, poorly designed
  • Work instruction use not verifiable

    • Too many separate applications in use simultaneously
    • Work instruction use not integrated with the process

Leveraging a powerful leadership tool like the Gemba Walk can help avoid these most common failures, but keep in mind, with any change or improvement initiative it’s the follow-through that matters. Identifying gaps means nothing if leadership doesn’t use the finding to improve their overall approach to leading the organization from the current state to a better state. As it relates to work instructions, any team in any industry can improve the essentials of their operation. Properly developed and deployed work instructions will drive positive impacts by reducing reject and rework costs, improving productivity, and providing a well-trained and prepared workforce. All of this culminates in customers getting more than they expect, for less than they planned which just happens to be good for business.

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