06. Aug. 2015

Gemba Gemba

by Mike Micklewright

You’ve heard of Bam Bam, Duran Duran, Zsa Zsa, so-so, tutu, and Reverend Tutu. And now we have … Gemba Gemba!

But what is Gemba Gemba?

  • It is quite simply going to the Gemba to observe others going to Gemba in order to ask, teach, learn, coach, and challenge, so that the skill of visiting the Gemba is done correctly and can be improved, thus assuring a greater chance of process improvement.

Frequently, over the years,  I have observed or heard how an individual or company believes they have been performing Gemba walks for quite some time once they receive a glimmer of information (from a book read, conference attended, or consultant hired)  about the practice of going to the gemba.

Plant managers or supervisors might say, “Sure, I go to the gemby everyday – I go out to where my guys are working, you know … at the gemby, and we discuss the problems they had during the day and we fix them then and there.  Then we might tell the others guys on the off-shifts about those problems and how we fixed them … after they come into the same gemby area.”

I’ve heard others say that they’ve been doing Gemba walks for years ever since they learned about Management by Walking Around. “Cause you know … it’s basically the same thing”, they might say.

And still others say “I work at the Gemba all the time.  I’m there expediting orders, getting materials for  my guys, puttin’ out fires,  fixin’ machines, reworking stuff, moving one order out of the way to make room for the “rush” orders. “Gemba” is my life man and, by the way, I love the new word!”

Many years ago, I was working with a well – respected organization which had requested that I perform a review of their “systems”.  They said that they were performing effective Gemba walks and this would not be one of the systems I would need to review.  I asked them if I could observe and listen in (Gemba gemba) to offer feedback, anyway.  They obliged. I very quickly realized that their version of Gemba walks was conducting huddle meetings around Visual Management Boards on the production floor and then walking to the next huddle meeting and so on.  What they were calling Gemba walks were the walks between huddle meetings at the Gemba, ergo … “Gemba Walks”.  There was no observing of the process at the Gemba, there was no interaction with the employees working in production or with the team leads, there was no challenging of the process, there was no coaching, there was very little learning, and there was no chance to observe waste. 

Many of us overuse and abuse words.  I have seen the following words overused, abused, or misused over the years when I see what companies are actually doing:  Gemba, root cause analysis, leader standard work, supermarkets, kamishibai, work cells, value streams, accountability meetings, coaching, KANBAN, 5S, leadership … just to name a few. Perhaps we think by using words that are that “in” makes us feel that we’ve accomplished something, or it is something we can sell to our bosses or customers, or we can place onto our resumes.

One way or the other, it is wrong … it is blasphemy. We must not believe that the use of certain words or phrases in the KAIZEN language is the correct use of the term or the correct application.  We must see for ourselves.  In the case of a Gemba walk, we must perform a Gemba Gemba to determine correct application of the process and skill of a Gemba walk … by a skilled and experienced walker. 

Going to the Gemba, as well as one of its key elements – coaching, are skills that should require many months of honing with the help from one who truly knows how a Gemba walk should be performed.  Calibration is required!    Find your sensei and ask them to go to the Gemba Gemba so that you and your organization may learn and improve these skills.

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