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How to Improve Your Process: Go to The Gemba

Leading a large organization is very demanding. It seems that our calendars fill up very quickly with meeting after meeting. Have you ever had that thought in the back of your head “if I wasn’t in this meeting, I could probably have gotten this accomplished already”? Been there! In Lean Six Sigma there is a saying “Go to the Gemba”. So, what is the Gemba, and why is it so important? Is there spiritual enlightening at the Gemba, free smoothies, what’s all the hype about? The truth is that this refers to a very basic principle that often gets overlooked in our data driven culture. Gemba simply refers to the place where the work is actually being accomplished. This is where Bob is actually setting up the press and where Suzy is actually attaching the widget to the gadget. This is where your people exist in your process. Too often, as leaders we rely on only data to drive our decisions. Please don’t misunderstand I am not saying throw out your data, it is a huge piece of the puzzle. Just as important is the information you can learn from going to the Gemba. This is where you can very quickly see if your system and process is functioning as it should. I would often try to walk the manufacturing floor several times a day. When you get in tune with your process it becomes very evident to you when things are out of kilter. Once you get to this point it is important to engage your teams and ask questions of the process. If you see that Bob has extra work in his area you should stop and ask Bob how things are going. In addition to learning what is bottle necking your process, Bob now knows that you care about what is happening on the floor. When engaging in any process improvement effort going to the Gemba is critical. While the data will help get you to the right ball park, going to the Gemba will tell you Who’s on First. Observing the process will help your team really dissect what is VALUE ADDED (it transforms the product in a way that the customer is willing to pay for) and what is NON-VALUE ADDED (customer doesn’t know this process happens or cares) in the process you have for your teams. Processes tend to become convoluted over time. This typically occurs as a response to an isolated event that we want to ensure is not able to occur again. We emotionally put a stop gap in place which is typically in the form of adding non-value added tasks to the work content. This typically results in less efficiency over a long period of time which costs companies a lot of money. When you go to the Gemba and ask why your employees are doing certain tasks through the lens of value added versus non-value added you will typically be surprised with what you find. I would encourage you to try this today in your facility and share what you see.

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