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  • Writer's pictureBill Greider

GEMBA Walk: Move With a Purpose!

Genchi Genbutsu (現地現物 ?) means "actual place, actual thing" and it is a key principle of the Toyota Production System. It suggests that in order to truly understand a situation one needs to go to gemba (現場) or, the 'real place' - where work is done.

Sounds logical and simple right? Like so many things TPS, there is more than meets the eye with this little "concept".

Conventional managers (like I was at one time) might interpret go to GEMBA as "management by walking around". That is, manage exactly like I normally do in my office, except this time standing up with safety glasses on. Nothing could be further from the truth. The trip to GEMBA is really an exercise in humility. The proper intention for my sojourns to where the work is to learn (a student), no matter my title. I need to fully understand that the reason I need to go and see is because I am really clueless!  I can't go out to the floor and act like a manager. (Managers get paid the big bucks to know everything, right?) Instead, I need to do GEMBA walks thinking about how I can assist the real experts....the people who actually DO the work every day.

The GEMBA walk isn't about merely looking at process metrics or dashboards with data hung in cells. Metrics are to make problems visible, so they will help you ask the right questions. It's not at all about giving answers and solving other people's problems for them. That is condescending. It's about asking open ended questions and actively listening (humble inquiry).

When you ask someone what is slowing them down or what makes their job more difficult, and they answer you, write it down! Don't just nod your head, or tell them you'll get back to them. Theses are your customers! Would you say that to your biggest external customer? As you go to GEMBA, think about the old fable about the emporer with no clothes. You know, the story about the king who intimidated his subjects so much that they were afraid to tell him he was actually naked! "Nice suit!" Or "I love the way your vest matches your eyes". If people are not used to you really listening, it will take some time before they trust you enough to tell you what's really going on. Instead of telling you your suit is becoming, they might say, "no problems here, everything is hunky dory."

Once people trust you and other managers that you ARE listening, and are more and more willing to communicate problems, use your kaizen process so people know that problems are so valuable that you have a process to implement countermeasures. An A3 board is that perfect process. There's nothing more disheartening then the same problems being brought up GEMBA walk after GEMBA walk without some way to tackle them. A3 is about working to develop people to the point where they can solve their own problems, with their leader's support.

So do your GEMBA walk the same time every day. Make it as regular as church. Teach your managers to only ask open-ended questions, demonstrate respect and bring energy & optimism with them......move with a purpose.

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Andrew David Potrepka
Andrew David Potrepka
Jan 18, 2021

Good stuff UB!


Bill Greider
Bill Greider
Jan 17, 2021

It works when you have leaders like you


Jan 16, 2021

Great stuff and it works.

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