Go to the Gemba

“Data is, of course, important in manufacturing - but I place the greatest emphasis on facts.”

Taiichi Ohno

 

 

Taiichi Ohno is known for creating the Toyota Production System. This quote is a few decades old, but it is still relevant nowadays. It alerts to a bad habit that is generalised in plenty of companies: making decisions without observing facts on the ground.

 

Many organisations stick to debating solutions in meeting rooms, basing their opinions on assumptions without palpable facts. It’s frequent to make process improvement decisions while forgetting to listen to the point of view of those who are in daily contact with the problems that arise.

 

This management model – lined by theoretical, opinion-based, command and control paradigms – reveals a lack of interest in the processes themselves and leads to inadequate reactions to problems (such as immediately identifying, blaming and judging the protagonist of a problem). The trouble with reacting in such a way is that it leads to scared employees who hide problems – and this complicates any process. It proves that it is essential to have an open culture which embraces the display of setbacks and faces them as opportunities.

 

These issues are common to a wide range of organisations – but can be solved calling on two concepts of Japanese origin: “Gemba” and “gembutsu”. The first notion means “the actual place” or where the action happens, the second one challenges managers to “see through their own eyes – on the ground – the way the work is processed”.

 

From theory to practice, decisions should be made and pursued while present on the ground and should be the result of involving the teams that live the process on a daily basis. Management should go to the “Gemba”, where identifying new opportunities for improvement will become more probable and making space for new challenges to be faced by the teams will be natural – and this is vital to making any company more competitive.


The decision-making process should begin through knowledge of facts in loco, which entails managers move to the “Gemba” to identify those opportunities and design solutions that fit the real life scenario. Managers’ eyes should be set on the constant improvement of processes – and management close to the “Gemba” is the best way to achieve that, to identify problems early on, to understand how to solve them best.

 

Problem:

-       Solving problems far away from where they occur

-       Decision-making process limited to management and not involving employees who are in direct contact with processes

-       Obsessive about results alone

-       Influence of theoretical, opinion-based, command and control paradigms

-       “Inspector culture” installed (focused on blaming and judging) – an environment where the first question asked when a problem arises is “Who did this?”

 

 

Solution:

-       Go to the “Gemba” – place where the action happens – and check “gembutsu”, in other words, observing the way the work is processed with their own eyes

-       Establish a culture where adversity is considered an opportunity for improvement

-       “Coach & Empower”

-       Involvement of every team member

-       Focus on processes as well as results

 

Benefits:

-       Identifying opportunities for improvement becomes more effective

-       Greater ability to turn threats and adversities into new opportunities

-       Culture of continuous improvement

-       Motivation and team involvement.

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