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Effective Gemba Walks - A key skill for Team Leaders

Updated: Sep 13

Team Leader standing in a factory

In lean manufacturing there’s a lot of talk and focus on Team Leaders mastering tools like 5s, Standardised Work and the 7 Wastes. These “Kaizen skills” are really important but will be of little value if your Team Leaders haven’t got the fundamental “Control Skills"

What is an effective Gemba walk: “Patrolling your Patch”?

“Gemba walks” have had a lot of coverage in recent years. “Patrolling your Patch” is a less fashionable but equally important activity. It refers to making use of every step a Team Leader takes in walking around their line/cell/area of control. We’ve all worked with people who appear to be blind and routinely walk past problems in their area.

A strong patrol avoids this by honing the eyes of a Team Leader to see Safety, Environmental, Quality, Delivery, Cost and People (SEQDCP) issues quickly and early. They’re walking their patch all day anyway so it takes no extra time. Being trained to do a strong SEQDCP Patrol just ensures that we make good use of every step to gather information through our sharpened eyes and ears.

We’ll talk more about it below but Team Leaders, effectively, learn to time travel - they see ABNORMALITIES early rather than PROBLEMS later. It’s not dissimilar to hand washing your car and spotting a small scratch in the paintwork BEFORE you end up with a rusty panel and a large repair cost in a few months’ time.

What are the key Gemba skills a Team Leader needs?

1. Start of Shift Brief

2. Gemba walks - Patrolling your Patch

3. Dealing with Issues

4. Creating a Strong Team

These are what make it possible for kaizen (continuous improvement) ideas to stick and keep delivering benefit. If you can't control your patch, any kaizen ideas will be lost in time because they can’t be sustained - like building sandcastles on a beach and watching the tide come in to wash away your good work.

This blog focuses on number 2 of these 4 key control skills - “Effective Gemba walks - Patrolling your Patch” – and it’s aimed primarily at Team Leaders. The focus is on Team Leaders simply because they are the front line in managing the factory.

Why does “Patrolling your Patch” with sharp eyes matter?

There are three basic reasons:

1. To grasp the shopfloor

A Team Leader patrolling with well-trained eyes will grasp more of what’s going on in their area. They’ll stop walking past things that are, or might become, a problem. For example:


Confirming that the right PPE is being worn correctly, checking for slips and trips in the area.


Confirming that Quality checks are being done to standard, and that defect parts aren't being left around to get mixed in with good parts.


Checking you've got enough parts on hand to make today's plan, and monitoring planned versus actual output, every hour.

2. To respond to abnormalities on the shopfloor

The second reason is to be able to respond early to an ABNORMALITY before it becomes a PROBLEM. For example, spotting that 2 different types of fixings have been accidentally mixed in a box is easier than disassembling and rebuilding multiple finished parts.

Problem or abnormality example, fixings
SempaiGuide example of a problem or abnormality

3. To escalate issues to management

Spotting issues early lets a Team Leader escalate the right things early which gives your supervisors and managers more time to respond well. A key point here though is that good escalation doesn’t happen naturally. There has to be formal, simple triggers (e.g. the Team Leader involves their supervisor if they can’t solve a breakdown within 20 minutes). This avoids a common frustration among managers where either everything is escalated (no point having a Team Leader!) or nothing is (too late to act!)

How to get your Team Leaders to implement effective Gemba walks

Below are some pointers to coach your Team Leaders to patrol well:

  • Firstly, they need to assess their span of control (the area they’re responsible for) and plan a sensible route covering the whole patch and allowing for a safe place to stand and observe at points.

  • “Patrolling Your Patch” should take no more than 10 minutes in most factories (it depends how big your product is and how long the process is). Think making pencils versus making aircraft wings

  • The patrol should have people at the centre. People bring together machines, material, methods, and information. They can get physically hurt and they are the local experts, put them at the centre of the patrol.

  • You’re looking for a balanced patrol covering SEQDCP (Safety, Environment, Quality, Delivery, Cost and People). Here’s an example, from our SempaiGuide lean toolkit, of what they should be looking for under Safety:

Examples of safety & environment abnormalities
SempaiGuide Safety & Environment abnormalities

  • During the patrol you want them to react immediately to any immediate safety concerns or quality risks.

  • Then, at the end of the patrol you want a quick debrief about which vital things they’ll react to now and which they’ll escalate.

2 tips for a successful Gemba walk

  1. Traditionally we’ve talked about managing SQDC and not the broader SEQDCP. Actually, we want a strong Team Leader to be able to control and react to E (Environment) and P (People) as well. We’ve agreed as a community that Environment, sustainability, and global warming are everyone’s responsibility. In this spirit, a Team Leader should be looking for things as simple as fluid and air leaks from machines, lights being left on, fans being left on, and waste streams not being segregated.

  2. The final point is that a good Team Leader has sharp eyes, the best Team Leaders have sharp eyes and don’t need to rely solely on their own eyes. This is because they've engaged their people, listened to their concerns and ideas, and acted. After a while of seeing this, teams volunteer information before the Team Leader even gets a chance to see it themselves. 15 pairs of eyes are always stronger than 1 pair of eyes.

If you’d like to talk more about how SempaiGuide can upskill your Team Leaders to become excellent in “Patrolling your Patch”, contact us, we'd love to hear from you.

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