Going to the gemba

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Perhaps the most important management practice of all is going to the gemba (the place where the value is created). Some thoughts:

Good managers are hard to find…. because they’re never at their desks.

Taiisho Ohno used to draw a chalk circle around a new manager on the factory floor then leave them there for hours, to learn the art of deep observation.

You’re not there to catch them doing something wrong, you’re there to catch them doing something great.

Take the time to learn one impediment, go away and remove it, and come back with the result. They’ve probably never seen a manager do that.

Cut across hierarchy. Time at the gemba should not be inversely proportional to seniority. Everybody should spend as much time as possible in the work.

If they’re surprised (or suspicious) to see you, you don’t spend anywhere near enough time at the gemba.

Gemba emphasises spending time to observe deeply and immerse in the work, whereas MBWA is at least interpreted to be more superficial.

We must have a different interpretations of going to the gemba in the context of knowledge work. At Toyota they could just stand and watch. We have to sit and talk. Tell me about our job. It’s an interruption and has to be managed somehow, but standing looking at somebody typing isn’t going to tell us much. I do find that an hour spent listening and looking at information walls is useful but inquiry is also needed.