Gemba, a word that sounds good. Toyota President Fujio Cho summarizes the approach as follows: go see, ask why, show respect. Following my article on the inversion of the pyramid, which invited you to give the power to frontline teams, here is an article that aims to decipher the concept of “gemba” and what revolves around: gemba walk, gembutsu.
What is gemba ?
The Japanese term Gemba refers to “where the action takes place” it could be translated by the field. In a factory, of course, one thinks of the production line, where the manufacturing activities take place, but the offices where the purchases, the planning, the design, the sales are made are also Gemba. By extension, the Gemba designates all places where value is created in the organization. Value is what the customer buys: the quality of the product or service, for example.
Why is gemba so important ?
In my previous article, I explained the importance of giving power to the frontline, and that means dealing with field problems on the field. When the management moves on the field it clearly indicates how important it is. These are not just words and values displayed on a sign, it’s a reality. In addition, the stakeholders are more comfortable in their work area. They control their environment and are more comfortable talking about it. One can easily imagine the shyness of an operator to talk to the director of his company. If in addition, if the discussion takes place in the office of the latter, the operator will be very uncomfortable to share his reality.
On the other hand, it is always easier to explain a situation or a problem by being on the spot. A working group or manager will save time to see on the spot to understand: in addition to the verbal explanation, he can see, touch, feel what we are talking about. Explanations and exchanges will be clearer and more productive. We are sure to understand each other and we save time for the continuation of the project or the treatment of the problem.
Finally, by talking around an equipment or a work area, creativity will be released, with the possibilities of testing and the use of the different senses. Remember that everyone is more sensitive to hearing, sight or touch. On the ground, all senses awake, everyone will make the most of his or her qualities.
When should you go on the field ?
Despite overloaded schedules, it is important to visit the field as often as possible. Following an accident, an incident, a breakdown, a quality problem, instead of convening a meeting in a room and bringing objects / actors from the field in the room, why not go to the field? We will have the chance to see the defects produced (in Japanese: gembutsu). The operations can be seen to work normally and to question what caused the malfunction.
In the context of a project, it is also relevant to go to the field. In one of my mandates, I participated in a Six Sigma project, as a representative for the plant. I was stunned to spend 8 hours working on equipment in a meeting room. The other participants did not have the chance to see the equipment. How can we be effective and relevant without knowing what we are talking about? By going to see the equipment working, we could easily have won 4 hours of meeting, lost to explain and imagine what could happen if we pressed each button.
Another opportunity to visit the field is the Gemba Walk, which is a specific activity. 1st level supervisors should be on the field all the time with their teams. Managers and directors should take the time, from once a day to once a week, to take a tour on the ground. Be careful, this is not a “health” walk. At first, you can focus on a workshop, or a work area and watch the operations work for a few moments. The goal is to understand what is happening, and to talk to the operators. Once the process is known, the observation period may be shorter and look like a factory “tour”. When we know how everything is supposed to work, a director or a manager will be able to detect dysfunctions very quickly: “Well, what does this palette do in the middle of the way? Usually there is nothing here … ”
How to go Gemba ?
For field visits to be successful, there are some prerequisites:
- First of all, you need to be open-minded. Even if the directors know the theory and know how the organization should work, a multitude of factors disrupt this ideal functioning, from the weather, to the mood of everyone through the computer systems or an accident that delays delivery. The organization constantly adapts to these factors and does not always work according to the defined rules. The visitor must therefore remain open and, before rejecting the modified operation, question and question the teams about the causes of malfunction.
- Some naivety is required. The experts on the ground are the people who work there, often for many years, their experience and knowledge are of great value. They must be taken into account. They often have good ideas for improving things in their area. These ideas should be noted, their impact assessed on other sectors and then implemented or explained to operators why they are not good for the organization. By increasing the organization’s knowledge and impacts on other sectors, the operational staff will be more relevant in their future proposals. You can also take them to a Gemba Walk in another area.
- Then there must be a goal: as explained above, a field visit aims to address a problem, to be aware of the state of the business, it is not a daily walk, to chat about the weather with teams.
There is just one point on which the manager or director will have to be inflexible: it is security. If the wearing of glasses is mandatory, everyone must wear them, the manager must be exemplary in this area.
Gemba is the terrain where value is created where field problems are dealt with. You have to go see with your own eyes , question the teams in the field (ask why) and value the ideas and proposals that are made (show respect).