Management Improvement Dictionary: Gemaba and Genchi Genbutsu

Genchi Genbutsu - "Go see the problem. This is the belief that practical experience is valued over theoretical knowledge. You must see the problem to know the problem." - Toyota Production System Terms (Toyota Georgetown Kentucky Plant - April 2006)

Gemba - Japanese for the actual place. In management terms this can mean going to where value is created. For example, where value is added in manufacturing. Or, for a product, going to see customers using the product. And as above, going to see the actual place: the source of the problem. By gaining the understanding of seeing the actual circumstances in which a product is used then understanding on improvements and innovation are possible.

For call centers, make a call as though you are a customer. See if you get to speak to a knowledgeable, friendly, helpful person or are subjected to hostile technology that seems designed to get you to hang up.

I believe direct engagement and experience with the actual place is one of the most important management concepts. Far too often managers try to manage through numbers without an understanding of the system. That leads to bad decisions.

An example of a non-Gemba activity is a spreadsheet looking at quarterly data. Far too many managers see their value as financial gimicks instead of working on improving the critical processes in the company. Another example, sending memos based on reports of some data or another (increased accidents, slowing sales, not enough upselling, increasing costs...). Analyzing data might help you determine where it might makes sense to visit the Gemba. Data can guide you to the right location to go look.

An Interview With Masaaki Imai (author of Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management):
You advocate that management go to gemba regularly. Why do you think management is reluctant to do this?

Imai: Managers often avoid going to gemba because they don't want to be embarrassed by their ignorance. They are afraid that in gemba, they will expose the fact that they don't know what is going on there, and often don't even know the right questions to ask. Add to that the traditional view which says that being assigned to gemba is a dead-end for career development. Perceptions about status and class, fear of unions, the glamour of the front office and the excitement of R&D and marketing are also probable reasons.
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