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  • Writer's pictureBill Greider

The "GEMBA": Go to Where the Money Is

Legend has it that someone once asked the late, slightly misguided, immortal bank robber, Willie Sutton, why exactly did he rob banks? His answer was about as crystal clear as crystal clear can be. "Because that's where the money is."

What does this genius have to do with your lean business growth strategy?

I ask YOU: "Why do you NEED (not optional) to go to GEMBA right now, today?" The answer is........exactly the same as lean guru Willie Sutton's!!

This is one of the 14 LEAN Principles that seem to roll off the tongue and sound simple enough to execute. "Go to GEMBA (where the value-creating work is) and show respect." Interestingly, there don't seem to be many problems in the conference room, or in our office. Everything seems to be hunky dory, business as usual, just dandy, and that's exactly how we like it. When we eventually do go to GEMBA, the last thing we want to think or talk about (too busy for that) is problems. Now the lean guy is telling us we need to get out there as much as possible and show respect by asking open ended questions. The people who do the value-added work (the work we get paid for) are the experts. They KNOW the problems. All we need to do is ask (using humble inquiry), and demonstrate we listened by helping them fix the problem (not fix it for them). Making regular trips to the GEMBA (standard work) makes problems visible so we can fix them.

The 4th "P" of P4 is to make problems visible and the curriculum of your learning. TPS doctrine tells us that "no problem" is "problem". Problems are defined as defects, overproduction, waiting, non-essential processing, transport, inventory or motion beyond what my customer will reimburse us for. The LEANER you get, the less tolerance people will have for these problems. The people who do the work often don't see themselves as capable of doing anything about these problems. "Hey, I just work here". Create a culture of people willing and capable of continuously attacking problems (like A3). The job of management is to help people see and eliminate waste, thereby taking ownership in their own jobs. Need to show up at GEMBA to accomplish that!

Working toward "flow" means a condition where all of the waste is removed and all that is left is value. It is the condition with the shortest lead time, highest level of quality and highest level of customer satisfaction. In my own company, this showing up at GEMBA and working slowly and steadily toward flow resulted in the ability to almost double sales with the same number of people. (People were doing less waste and much more value-added work).

The GEMBA. It's where the money is!

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