The genchi genbutsu principle involves going to the gemba every now and then so as to understand the situation on the ground. You go to gemba with a specific list of things in mind that have to be in place. Using a gemba walk checklist, you verify that the necessary conditions are in place for the smooth running of operations.
Leaders should go to gemba with this checklist on a regular basis so as to gain a clear understanding of the real conditions. This will make them better placed to make the right decisions that will have a positive impact.
What is Genchi Genbutsu?
Going to the gemba is a kaizen practice of always going to the source of the problem so as to grasp the real issues and verify facts. When a problem that has an impact on the operations of a company occurs, many people will try to get answers using data without first verifying it at the actual point that it is occurring. "Go to Gemba" is a problem solving paradigm in lean thinking that encourages first hand observation at the point where a problem is happening. Confirming data in this way is important because most of the time the data is subjective and needs to be put into context through observation.
Origin of Genchi Genbutsu
The concept of "going to gemba" was started at Toyota by Taiichi Ohno who is credited for the Toyota Production System. Taichi Ohno was known for asking new management trainees to stand at one spot on the factory floor and observe everything that took place for a whole day. This instilled the discipline of careful observation which can lead to very meaningful insights.
Benefits of Going to Gemba
Taichi Ohno, as a manager at Toyota, developed rules and principles for handling problematic situations in the shop floor. The five steps to take when a problem occurs are:
- Go to the gemba where the real work is done and observe the source of the problem
- Check genbutsu which are all the equipment and resources in the gemba
- Take temporary countermeasures on the spot so as to ensure operations are not disrupted
- Find root cause of the problem by asking why the problem occurred in the first place
- Standardize any resultant procedures to prevent recurrence of the problem in the future
The benefits of this kind of thinking are:
- Easy to confirm reports on the ground rather than relying on reports which may be subjective and not realistic
- One gains deeper understanding of the situation by doing a comprehensive root cause analysis at the place where the problem is located
- Other issues that might not been captured by the reports become apparent as one is observing the intricate relationships of processes at the source
Examples of Genchi Genbutsu
Lean thinking organizations have internalized this principle of going to the source of the problem in order to understand it better. The following examples show the concept at work.
- During product development at Toyota, the engineers normally drive the vehicles themselves so as to learn about the issues that may face the final customers.
- An airline was getting too many customer complaints especially in regard to in-flight service. To fully understand the cause of the customer complaints and dissatisfaction, the chief executive worked for one day as a flight attendant, serving meals and interacting with passengers. This action helped the company take corrective actions to the problem and is a good example of genchi genbutsu philosophy.
- The chief operating officer of an airline catering firm wanted to understand why the lean implementation in his company was not working. Instead of concentrating on spreadsheets and graphs in his office, he worked at the shop floor with operators for a week. In that one week, he was able to understand that the kaizen solutions that had been put in place were not only unworkable, but were causing serious productivity problems. The corrective actions he implemented after these observations helped the firm build consensus on the kaizen direction and made the company achieve its goals within a short time
- The Tysons Foods chief executive in charge of China operations was looking for a new dish with an authentic Chinese flavour. As he was walking the streets, he came across a market stall that appeared to be very popular and was crowded with customers. The stall was selling cumin-coated barbeque lamb on skewers. That became an inspiration for a new cumin-flavoured chicken strips that the company developed into a popular product
The Gemba Walk
This concept of taking a gemba walk can result in the most compelling solutions to customer problems. Getting out more gives organizations better understanding of the point of view of the customer. Sometimes companies fall into the trap of asking the customer what they want. While this is a good approach, sometimes the customer does not really know what they want. This should be taken into account when developing products because customer needs are fickle especially when the products been developed are meant to serve a future need.
To develop products that customers may need in the future, companies must enter their world and view it from their perspective. A good example of taking a gemba walk in order to understand customer requirements is told in the story of the Toyota Scion XB.
The Scion brand by Toyota is targeted at the youth segment of the market. When Toyota released the first Scion XB, the targeted market did not readily accept it as Toyota had expected. In order to understand what the youth wanted in a car, Toyota executives decided to live the life of the youth and attended hip-hop parties. What came out from these observations was that the youth were image conscious and the primary motivation for value is self-expression. This insight made them come up with improvements that made the car brand to be accepted by the youth segment of the market.
The Gemba Walk Check-list
The gemba walk check-list is a quick way for managers and supervisors to grasp the condition of the work place. This is in line with the genchi genbutsu principle of going to see for oneself the real situation on the ground. The gemba walk should not take more than thirty minutes with focus of the following key points:
- Check the seven wastes
- Follow the flow from the end of the process to the beginning
- Check the four Ms of man, machine, materials and methods
- Abnormal conditions
- Availability of standards
Gemba Walk Check-list example
|Key Point||Questions to ask||YES/ NO|
Are people waiting for materials or are materials waiting for people at the workstations?
Are there in-process storage areas to minimize movement?
Is there too much inventory in the storage areas?
Do workers appear to be making unnecessary movements in their work
Are workers producing as per order?
Are products staying longer in process than the prescribed time?
Is there presence of defective products?
Is the flow of materials evident?
Are workstations manned?
Are there any machine breakdowns?
Are people following standards?
Are materials available?
Are there any abnormal conditions such as leaks, breakages and dirt?
Are standards up to date?
Are standards present?