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Gemba (現場 genba?) is a Japanese term meaning "the actual place" or "the real place" and implies that it is the place where value is created. In manufacturing the gemba is the factory floor. It can be any "site" such as a construction site, sales floor or where the service provider interacts directly with the customer.

In lean manufacturing, the idea of gemba is that the problems are visible and the best improvement ideas will come from going to the gemba. The gemba walk, much like MBWA or Management by Walking Around, is an activity that takes management to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities to practice gemba kaizen or practical shopfloor improvement.

In quality management, gemba means the manufacturing floor and the idea is that if a problem occurs, the engineers must go there to understand the full impact of the problem, gathering data from all sources. Unlike focus groups and surveys, gemba visits are not scripted or bound by what one wants to ask.

Glenn Mazur introduced this term in the Quality Function Deployment (QFD) (a quality system for new products where manufacturing has not begun) to mean the customer's place of business or lifestyle. The idea is that to be customer-driven, one must go to the customer's gemba to understand his problems and opportunities, using all one's senses to gather and process data.


[edit] Customer visit

A Gemba visit is often simply called a customer visit. The hallmarks that make it uniquely useful are:

  • the purpose is firstly to observe, occasionally to question, rarely to guide or direct
  • the visit occurs in the context where the product or service is used, which allows direct observation of problems that arise, workarounds that are applied, and capabilities or services that are never used
  • sometimes the customer (or client or user) is asked to describe what he is doing while he is doing it; this provides insight into the thought processes, which often reveal differences between the customer's mental model and the model of the developers or providers of the product or service.
  • the customer will often express wishes or needs while working in context that would be forgotten or suppressed in a different context such as a structured interview or sales meeting

Common cases for a customer visit include:

  • enhancing the features or usability of products (especially software) or devices (especially ones aimed at very broad or very niche consumers)
  • improving processes or tools

[edit] Managerial style

Toyota have a very high proportion of their management on the shop floor (the Gemba) so that supervisors can be intimately involved in quality issues as they arise. Their presence in the Gemba informs their decision making and speeds resolution of problems. This Gemba attitude is driven by the belief that all customer value is created in the Gemba and it is therefore the qualities of the Gemba which will determine the success of the company.

Japanese detectives call the crime scene a gemba.

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