Let’s go to the Gemba: Where value is created

The contributions by Japanese industrialists and the Asian post-World War II manufacturing sector to the methodologies of quality assurance and continuous improvement are numerous. Previously we have discussed an array of different Lean management principles to continue developing these continuous improvement strategies based on these contributions. 

In the case of our current topic, Gemba, we’ll examine how this Japanese word for “actual place” distills the idea of “management by walking around” to its essence. The evolution of Gemba occurred simultaneously with the development of the Five Whys (which we discussed here) and are both based on the necessity of managers being fully engaged: “Go, Look, See”. 

By walking the production line, visiting the shop floor, and seeing firsthand every aspect of the organization, processes in use can be put into context. Recently, this approach experienced a resurgence under the guise of “contextual inquiry” and “contextual design methods”. In similar fashion, these step-by-step processes for collecting field data advocate context-specific learning of all work practices in order to dissect and improve processes and production methodologies. 

Go see for yourself 

The early Toyota management team believed that everything must be anchored to the creation of value. That meant scrutinizing the automaker’s operations from end-to-end and analyzing all aspects of how and where value is created. When Toyota executives and managers spoke of “going to the Gemba”, it equated to the act of visiting the shop floor to physically see  where the processes occurred. Their goal was to get a firsthand perspective of what might be causing inefficiencies and determine which improvements should be made. 

In the day-to-day operations of your own organization, you may often feel unable to find the root cause of problems, whether they are hidden in the supply chain, manufacturing, or quality assurance initiatives. This feeling of powerlessness is quite common and yet it’s something that Lean principles and Gemba can solve simply. With foresight and focus, your team can harness the Gemba approach to identify and fix out-of-control processes that undermine value-added tasks.  

Here are some of the core benefits of Gemba which may motivate you to explore using it in your business: 

Supports the Lean Mindset 

A strong reason for trying out Gemba is to create empathy towards the “socio-technical system” within your organization. Poor communication and organizational hierarchies can create a wall between managers and workers. When the Gemba principle is implemented, it empowers stakeholders to become part of the problem-solving while supporting the use of other forms of Lean. As a mindset, Gemba helps initiate active involvement across departments and tiers of a company. Visiting the “actual place” where processes take place is a great way to learn more about your systems and establish a connection between executives, managers, and operational level employees. Above all, it puts a face and a name to a process. 

Establishes the Use of the Gemba Walk: 

The Gemba Walk is a simple, high-value activity: visit the shop floor and production line to see the actual process, understand the work, and ask questions. Organizations that adopted this in earnest typically expect managers to spend roughly an hour every week (or semi-monthly) “Gemba walking”. During the break-in period of this new managerial initiative, it helps to be accompanied by a Lean specialist to serve as a guide. By mainlining the regular schedule of “making rounds”, it demonstrates to workers an ongoing adherence to Lean processes and a commitment to listen to the input of workers on a continual basis. 

Problem Solving:  

Remembering the Five Whys, nothing cuts to heart of an issue faster than making a firsthand inquiry to obtain accurate, on-the-spot information. Unlike reading reports or poring over KPIs, hearing input directly from operational workers is invaluable in effective decision-making. Gemba is a powerful and simple method to remove barriers, empower people, and increase productivity and individual performance by providing everyone with the opportunity to create substantial change within an organization. 

Accelerate the Gathering of Relevant Information:  

The words associated with Gemba say it all. “Go see, ask why, show respect”. Just as a crime scene investigator must begin by looking for clues where the event occurred, managers can streamline information gathering simply by conducting a walk. In doing so, timely, accurate, and relevant data can be collected and brought to bear on strategizing a solution.  

If you’ve wondered how to accelerate your organization’s progress to greater efficiencies and higher levels of customer satisfaction, you now have the tools at hand to find out. The reward is a higher propensity for impactful decision-making in each process you want to put under the microscope and improve. Eliciting the input of your team will draw in helpful new perspectives and previously unseen opportunities for improvement. In addition to the upside of improvement, Gemba will decrease waste present in processes, eliminate non-value-added time, and make your other Lean initiatives top priority within your processes.  

Harnessing the power of Gemba is just the beginning 

Over the past several decades we’ve created integrated business management solutions for clients in manufacturing, distribution, and the service industries. By leveraging Lean methodologies, we’ve built upon our expertise in helping our clients improve their day-to-day operations, increase efficiencies, accelerate inventory turns, reduce manufacturing lead-time, and improve customer service. We hope that gaining a more fully rounded understanding of Lean principles will serve as a springboard to taking your organization to the next level of performance and profitability. 

For more information, book an appointment with one of our Lean specialists today.