Gemba. Mention it outside lean manufacturing circles, and you're likely to draw a blank stare.
So, what is gemba? In short, it's the place that matters most. It could be a crime scene: In Poe's The Tell-tale Heart, gemba is that heart thumping under the floorboards. In sports, it's wherever the ball is. In business, it's the place where real value is created, the place where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. In other words, gemba is the beating heart of your organization.
And as a manager, owner, or CEO, it's where you should be, at least some of the time.
Walking the Gemba Walk
Gemba is rarely found at an executive desk. Instead, you'll find it on the shop floor. Or in the marketing department. Or at a customer's place of business.
Wherever gemba is, go there. In lean manufacturing, this is called the gemba walk. It's the best way to see, firsthand and unmediated, what works and doesn't. It's the best way to get the information you need to make the best possible decisions – usually in the most efficient possible manner.
Think about The Tell-tale Heart. Did the police officers sit at their desks, mentally working out the cause of the shriek heard in the dead of night? No; they did their footwork. They got up, went out, and found the gemba. They asked questions. They learned. And they got what they were after.
There are three essential elements to the Gemba Walk and they are:
Go See: (get to the Gemba)
- Is the purpose aligned with the overall change?
- Is the process designed to achieve the purpose?
- Are people engaged to achieve the purpose and are they supported by the process?
Ask Why: (how we understand the technical or process side)
- Opportunity – look for symptoms rather than prescribing solutions.
- Waste – eliminate redundancies, overproduction, and others of the eight wastes.
- Problem – confirm what we are trying to achieve and why can’t we?
- Kaizen – seek patterns, forms, tools and routines
Show Respect: (engage the “Hearts and Minds” of the people doing the work)
- Respect people
- Rely on people
- Develop People
- Challenge People
Some resources that will help you dive deeper into these concepts are:
- Gemba Walks by Jim Womack
- The Lean Enterprise Institute