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Mike Micklewright


Gemba Gemba

Just because you call it a gemba walk doesn’t mean it’s a gemba walk

Published: Thursday, August 27, 2015 - 12:17

You’ve heard of Bam Bam, Duran Duran, Zsa Zsa, so-so, tutu, and Reverend Tutu. And now we have... Gemba Gemba! But what is Gemba Gemba?

Quite simply, Gemba Gemba means going to the gemba for the purpose of observing others going to the gemba to ask, teach, learn, coach, and challenge. In this way, the skill of visiting the gemba can be done correctly and then improved, thus assuring a greater chance of process improvement.

Over the years I’ve frequently observed, or heard, people who believe that they perform gemba walks properly. The feel that they’ve been doing it the right way for quite some time, ever since they received a glimmer of information from a book they read, a conference they attended, or a consultant they hired. Plant managers or supervisors might say, “Sure, I go to the gemby every day. I go out to where my guys are working, you know, at the gemby, and we discuss the problems they had during the day and we fix them then and there. Then we might tell the others guys on the off-shifts about those problems and how we fixed them... after they come into the same gemby area.”

I’ve heard others say that they’ve been doing gemba walks for years, ever since they heard about “Management by Walking Around.” They might say, “Because you know … it’s basically the same thing.”

Still others say, “I work at the gemba all the time. I’m there expediting orders, getting materials for my guys, puttin’ out fires, fixin’ machines, reworking stuff, moving one order out of the way to make room for the ‘rush’ orders. Gemba is my life, man, and by the way, I love the new word!”

Many years ago, I was working with a well-respected organization that asked me to perform a review of their “systems.” They said that they were performing effective gemba walks so that wouldn’t be one of the systems I needed to review. I asked them if I could observe and listen in (i.e., Gemba Gemba) to offer feedback, anyway. They obliged. I very quickly realized that their version of gemba walks was conducting huddle meetings around visual management boards on the production floor and then walking to the next huddle meeting, and so on. What they were calling gemba walks were the walks between huddle meetings at the gemba, therefore: “Gemba Walks.” There was no observation of the process at the gemba, there was no interaction with the employees working in production or with the team leads, there was no challenging of the process, there was no coaching, there was very little learning, and there was no chance to observe waste.

Many of us overuse and abuse words. Over the years, when I see what companies are actually doing, I have found that they are overusing, abusing, or misusing the following words: gemba, root cause analysis, leader standard work, supermarkets, kamishibai, work cells, value streams, accountability meetings, coaching, kanban, 5S, and leadership, just to name a few. Perhaps we think that by using words that are “in” we feel that we’ve accomplished something, or it’s something we can sell to our bosses or customers, or we can put in our resumes.

One way or the other, it’s wrong. In fact, it’s blasphemy. We must not believe that the use of certain words or phrases in the kaizen language is the correct use of the term or the correct application. We must see for ourselves. In the case of a gemba walk, we must perform a Gemba Gemba to determine the correct application of the process and the skill of a gemba walk by a skilled and experienced walker.

Going to the gemba and coaching are skills that should require many months of honing with the help from one who truly knows how a gemba walk should be performed. Calibration is required!  Find your sensei and ask him or her to go to the Gemba Gemba so that you and your organization can learn and improve these skills.

First published on kaizen.com, Aug. 6, 2015.


About The Author

Mike Micklewright’s picture

Mike Micklewright

Mike Micklewright has been teaching and facilitating quality and lean principles worldwide for more than 25 years. He specializes in creating lean and continuous improvement cultures, and has implemented continuous improvement systems and facilitated kaizen/Six Sigma events in hundreds of organizations in the aerospace, automotive, entertainment, manufacturing, food, healthcare, and warehousing industries. Micklewright is the U.S. director and senior consultant for Kaizen Institute. He has an engineering degree from the University of Illinois, and he is ASQ-certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, quality auditor, quality engineer, manager of quality/operational excellence, and supply chain analyst.

Micklewright hosts a video training series by Kaizen Institute on integrating lean and quality management systems in order to reduce waste.