Comparing In-Person vs Virtual Gemba Walks

A Gemba Walk is a Lean Management practice that aims to improve productivity of operations through observing and learning the work where it happens. However, as a result of the travel restrictions during Covid, major companies across industries were forced to adopt Virtual Gemba Walks to maintain visibility of their sites and facilities.

Many have continued the practice of Virtual Gemba Walks beyond the pandemic due to its benefits over visiting sites in person. In this article, we’ll compare the Pros and Cons of:

  • A Gemba Walk conducted in person
  • A Virtual Gemba Walk conducted using standard video conferencing

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages and it’s important to understand the differences in order to choose the best approach for you and your team.

We’ll conclude by taking a look at how emerging technologies are improving the overall virtual experience and pushing the limits of remote work, forcing us to challenge the very idea of visiting sites in person.

An image of an in-person Gemba Walk

In-Person Gemba Walk

The practice of walking the Gemba was first implemented by Taiichi Ohno, the founder of the Toyota Production System in the 1950s. He recognized the importance of observing the work where it happens in order to make informed decisions for continuous improvement.

Pros

  • Accurate and Reliable Information: When looking at data alone, leaders make incomplete assumptions and conclusions that lead to misguided decisions. By walking the floor in person, you have complete transparency into the work being done. This results in the most accurate and reliable information through firsthand observation.

  • Instant Feedback: In-person visits give leaders the ability to communicate directly with those doing the work. This makes it easy to point out areas of concern, ask questions, and receive feedback on the spot. This ensures you’re taking inputs and experiences of those on site into consideration in your observation. 

  • Holistic Perspective: In-person walkthroughs allow you to see and experience the entire operation and understand how each component comes together in a holistic view. 

  • Meaningful Interactions: Walking the shop floor provides an opportunity engage with teams on-site to better understand the day-to-day workflows. The face-to-face interactions help build better relationships across functions and levels of management for a more connected workforce.

Cons

  • Time Consuming: Effective Gemba Walks require relatively frequent travel by senior team members which means more time away from the office. Additionally, average downtime due to travel has become increasingly unpredictable over the last few years due to airline staff shortages, reduced number of flights, and so on. 

  • Increased Costs: Travel is often one of the most difficult business expenses to control. In addition to airfare, the most common expenses include lodging, ground transportation, and meals. The average cost of travel has steadily increased over the last several years, and we expect to see the same in 2023.

  • Disrupts Operations: Site visits often require some level of disruption to the operation to ensure the safety of the participants. 

  • Limited Number of Participants: More often than not, not everyone that could benefit from the Gemba Walk will be able to participate. Not only is it due to time and cost constraints mentioned above, it’s simply not viable to bring numerous team members on the floor for a walkthrough.
An image of a Remote Gemba Walk conducted using standard video conferencing

Virtual Gemba Walk

First adopted out of necessity, Virtual Gemba Walks have evolved into a practice carried on beyond Covid. 

Virtual site visits are generally conducted using standard video conferencing tools, allowing participants to observe processes from a distance. This method is significantly more convenient than in-person visits, and is ideal for businesses needing to frequently observe numerous locations or when travel is difficult.

Pros

  • Cost Effective: Businesses can save thousands of dollars by reducing the need to travel altogether. Instead, a significant portion of the travel budget can be allocated elsewhere as needed.

  • Time Efficient: On a typical Gemba Walk, team members spend more time traveling, than actually walking the floor. With a virtual solution, teams can focus on the Gemba without having to deal with the inconveniences of travel. 

  • Improved Accessibility: Companies can conduct more frequent site visits with little effort. This allows all key stakeholders and decision makers to participate. Rather than visiting locations once or twice a year, maintain more consistent visibility across sites and involve the right people every time.

  • Reduced Risk and Disruptions: A Virtual Gemba Walk requires an on-site camera operator to guide the walkthrough. Typically, this individual is already familiar with the floor and requires less operational disruption to accommodate the visit. This also means teams can avoid the added risk of having numerous visitors roaming the floor.

Cons

Although convenient, standard video conferencing tools have a number of limitations when it comes to meetings that require the context of a physical location.

  • Limited Visibility: Standard video conference tools generally use video at a 16:9 aspect ratio. Although this replaces face-to-face meetings, it falls short of delivering visibility needed to replace Gemba Walks or other site visits.

  • Lack of Viewer Autonomy: Standard video conferencing relies on the camera operator on site to direct and guide the participants field of view. Without the ability to look around, the participants are unable to make more detailed observations of what’s happening on the shop floor.

  • Minimal Features: Standard video conferencing has minimal features available to streamline Virtual Gemba Walks and site visits. This results in extra work required by participants to take and share notes, photo-document the walkthrough, and so on.
Emerging technologies used for a Remote Gemba Walk

Conclusion

Today, emerging technologies have significantly improved the Virtual Gemba Walk experience by addressing the limitations of standard video conferencing directly.

Using technology like Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and 360° video, companies are now able to conduct effective walkthroughs virtually, at a fraction of the cost and time. Read more about remote collaboration tools and how they compare.

The reality is, Virtual Gemba Walks will continue to become more common in the near future, especially to supplement in-person visits. The important question is, what technology is right for you?


Avatour delivers the most effective way to walk the Gemba virtually.

The Avatour platform creates a shared feeling of presence in a physical location using real-time communication and 360° video capture.

Whether you manage one location or 100, Avatour provides in-person visibility without the hassle of travel so you can focus what’s important: the Gemba.

Click to learn more about the Avatour platform.

Recent Posts:

Subscribe for updates:

Request a Demo

Experience what remote presence can do for you with a live demo. Fill out the contact form below and one of our representatives will be in touch.