Go to Gemba!

Gemba is a Japanese term meaning �the place where truth can be found�. It is normally used in the lean philosophy to mean the workplace (or the place where value is added) and the significance is that when you want to understand what is going on � you must visit the actual workplace to see for yourself the actual situation.

Listening to what other people say is not enough; you must see, smell and understand the actual process and working conditions.

So, when learning about the application of lean techniques, students are always taught to �go to Gemba� � to go and find out for themselves what is happening.

Gemba visits take in whatever happens � they are not scripted or bound by pre-conceived notions of what should happen.

In fact, the phrase has wider connotations, also reflecting the �truth� relating to customers and their lifestyles and how this impacts on the way in which we make and market products.

For example, when Toyota started on the development of their new luxury brand � the Lexus, a number of designers were sent to California to live the life of the affluent for several months. � the reason being that only when they understood the lives of the people in the target market segment, could they understand their needs and aspirations relating to the automobiles they might purchase � the Gemba!

�Going to Gemba� involves direct observation but it might also involve asking the customer or workers involved about why they are doing what they are doing and how they are feeling while doing it. This might reveal wishes and concerns that might not emerge in other forms of interaction such as an interview or questionnaire. The aim is to identify gaps between the mental models of those directly involved and those thinking about the situation �in abstraction� from the office or design studio.

One way of reducing the need to �go to Gemba� is to have your managers directly involved on the shop floor amongst the work group, rather than paying occasional visits from their �ivory towers�. This ensures that such managers are intimately involved and know what is happening before it is reported to them.


Productivity is my 'bag' ... it is what I know about. I am President of the World Confederation of Productivity Science -http://www.wcps.info and Director of the National Productivity Centre in the UK http://www.natprodcentre.com - go to this site for some good free resources and some (paid for but low price) e-learning on productivity. I also edit the International Journal of Productivity & Performance Management. My views on productivity and on learning (which I think are related) are su...

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