What does Gemba mean?

Gemba is a Japanese term that translates to ‘the real place.’ When used in the context of workplace improvement or increased efficiency, the Gemba is the place where actual work is done. For example, in a factory setting, the Gemba would be where the machines and other equipment are putting together the products. It is often referred to as ‘the place where value is created.’

Observing the Gemba

The principles of Gemba, a Lean manufacturing tool, is used for many things in many workplaces. Any business whose objective is to focus on continuous improvements to efficiency, safety, and production will want to understand what Gemba means and what it is in the workplace.

What Gemba is Used For

This term is most commonly used in areas such as factories and warehouses. The most well-known way that is used for describing Gemba walks. A Gemba walk is when department heads such as supervisors and executives walk around the factory floor to view how work is actually being done. Unlike management by walking around, the objective of Gemba walks is to ask questions.

Organizations do this because while the work that team members do in their offices is important, it is no substitute for actually looking at how it is done and talking to employees who are doing it. Of course, management will have people on the floor who report up to them with any issues or concerns, but again that can’t be used to the exclusion of having supervisors on the shop floor themselves.

Finding Improvement Opportunities on a Gemba Walk

When done properly, using Gemba will give you an insight and the opportunity to identify many different areas of improvement to then action solutions. By spending time where work is being done, you can spot potential problems, look for inefficiencies, see safety hazards, and much more.

One of the biggest reasons that a Gemba, or a Gemba walkthrough, is so effective is because it facilitates open communication between the front-line workforce and executives and others. This open conversation can help you to hear different ideas on how to improve processes right from the lips of those doing the work. These are often ideas that would have otherwise gone unheard if you were to wait in your office for someone to share.

Gemba is one of the simplest workplace improvement concepts out there today, but it is also one of the most effective. Since it can be used alongside any other improvement strategy, there really is no significant reason not to use this concept.

Additional Gemba facts:

  • Gemba is a Japanese word meaning "the actual place." In lean practices, the gemba refers to "the place where value is created," such as the shop floor in manufacturing, the operating room in a hospital, the job site on a construction project, the kitchen of a restaurant, and the workstation of a software programmer. Source: https://www.leansixsigmadefinition.com/glossary/gemba/
  • The term "going to the gemba" is described by the Japanese term "genchi gembutsu" which means "go and see for yourself." It is a key principle of the Toyota Production System, which emphasizes the importance of firsthand observation and problem-solving at the source of value creation. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemba
  • A popular approach in companies who implement lean principles is called "Gemba walks," which denote the action of going to see the actual process, understand the work, ask questions, and learn from those who do the work (showing respect to them). It is an opportunity for management and support staff to break away from their day-to-day tasks to walk the floor of their workplace to identify wasteful activities. Source: https://www.lean.org/lexicon-terms/gemba/
  • Gemba walks are crucial to maintaining the disciplined adherence to lean process designs, part of the lean support role permeating all leadership positions. Executives should expect to spend 45 to 60 minutes every week or two gemba walking with a lean teacher, or Sensei, for six months to a year. Thereafter, they should regularly gemba walk on their own. Source: https://ca.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/what-is-gemba



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