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Where is the Gemba?

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Gemba Symbol

Where we reduce the impact of the 8th Waste

Written by Cordell Hensley, KCTS Consultant

Gemba – is a Japanese term which means “the real place” – within Lean it is associated with the shop floor, in Japan it means so much more – a detective considers the crime scene the Gemba!

Interestingly, as an interim engineering manager sometimes the shop floor is a crime scene to me. When we have a break down and it is completely preventable (which all arguably are) then the place where the breakdown occurs is the Gemba in both senses of the word.

Going to Gemba is similar to (or even the same as) MBWA – “Management by Walking Around” a management concept introduced by Tom Peters in the early 80s. Both the Americans (Tom Peters – In Search of Excellence) and the Japanese (Toyota Production System) understand the value of being out on the Gemba talking to and engaging with people, finding out where the problems are and listening to what people have to say about what should be done. Why is it that we find it so difficult to “Go Look See” (Genchi Genbutsu)? Is it because we are not sure where the Gemba is? Or is it because we don’t want to engage with the people who can see the problems and will openly tell us; is that because we will then have to do something about it?

Going to Gemba is not just about walking around, it is about looking for opportunities, for identifying waste but probably the most important reason to “Go to Gemba” is to engage with our people to ensure that the 8th waste (yes there are eight) does not become the main cause of all the others! We need to have our people engaged and bought in to what we are doing. All the systems and tools and techniques in the world will not make a company lean or world class if the people who do the work are not bought in! We get that buy in from going to Gemba, talking to people and taking them with us on the journey.

The eighth waste is the under (or un)utilised creativity of our people’s minds – if we don’t want them to think and be creative, how can we ever expect to be successful? Don’t propagate the 8th waste by ignoring your most valuable assets (even if we count them as expenses). Get out to the Gemba, you might just find yourself surprised by how much your people have to contribute!



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