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Gemba - a management process for leading the organization

What does Gemba mean?

Gemba is a Japanese word that can be translated as the place “where value is created and things happen”.

So why do we use the term Gemba? Because developing this attitude throughout the organisation, and especially among management, plays an important part in the company’s growth over the long term.

When managers leave their desk to go to the production line or the offices to personally verify what’s happening, they are able, with the help of their employees, to notice things that they would never have seen while sitting in front of their computer. Gemba is in fact the first step in KAIZEN, i.e. continuous improvement, as what we see in the place where value is produced gives rise to the consequent activities to reduce waste (MUDA) in processes and improve competencies and tools.

When you see a manager walking around the company, isn’t there the risk that they will be seen as someone simply wandering around rather than working at their desk?

The answer is no! Doing a Gemba walk every day helps build good relationships with the team, who will get used to seeing their manager directly in the workplace, and not as some far-away person who makes decisions without being aware of what is needed and without the help of the employees under their supervision.

Talking with people every day helps create a bond of trust. And if people trust each other, they will communicate both what works and what doesn’t, which is essential to complete projects in the best possible way.

These moments, however, are not only useful for “discovering” problems, but should also be exploited to congratulate employees who are doing a good job (indeed, one important factor in an employee achieving job satisfaction is recognition of the fact they are doing a good job).

How do you do a Gemba walk?

It’s easier done than said. Here are some “golden rules”:

  1. Try to do your daily walk when the office or department you want to visit is fully operational
  2. Closely observe reactions, behaviour, tones of voice, expressions, the location of objects or documents, discussions, slowdowns, etc.
  3. Get used to walking around with a pen and a notebook so as to write down any problems, ideas or anything else that comes to mind during the walk, without interrupting the people who are working too often
  4. At the beginning, it is normal for employees to feel like they are under observation. So try not to judge, rather try to recognise problems or inefficiencies through significant questions to employees
  5. Beware, however, of becoming a sort of “controller” looking to find everything that is not working, otherwise you will achieve the opposite effect.

Abstract concept or reality?

At Carel, Gemba walks are currently applied in production and product development. Every 2-3 months, one hour is spent on bringing together employees, managers and directors to share the status of innovation or improvement projects.

For example, this July a Gemba meeting was held in R&D and in the Software Competence Centre, where the tools developed by the team were presented, including demos. This was also exploited to create an opportunity for sharing through a new method of feedback, useful for both those presenting and those who were listening. What emerged will serve as a starting point for improving the work of colleagues and future Gemba meetings.

In conclusion, then , it can be said that Gemba is where you go to understand the work being done, to guide, and to learn. The overall objective is for Gemba walks to become a daily habit among management first of all, and then the company as a whole.

If each of us, in fact, develops the ability to see and report problems, presenting real data and applying a structured approach to analysis and solutions, we will succeed in creating more value with less waste, variability and over-processing. Which means helping the company grow on more solid foundations, and not on “illuminations” of individuals or specific projects that are only undertaken when the problem is already too big! “I walk around, I ask questions about what I see and I encourage people to try”: Jim Womack

So now... go and see!  



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