In Japanese, the word Gemba means “the real place.” When it comes to a manufacturing setup, this term means the actual place where products are created or the place where the equipment used to manufacture the products is located, which is usually the shop floor. Gemba is one of the key lean manufacturing principles that was first adopted by Toyota in the 1900s. 

How is the Gemba principle used in manufacturing

The Gemba principle is usually implemented in factories, warehouses, and other manufacturing facilities. One of the common applications of this principle is the Gemba walk. Gemba walk refers to when a supervisor or manager walks into the manufacturing facilities to clearly look at the different operations. 

When making Gemba walks, supervisors often ask operators and other manufacturing workers a couple of questions to get a good idea of everything being done. Companies that use this principle equally value the work done in offices and the manufacturing work in the factories. So, managers must strike a balance between doing office and getting time to visit the factory to see what is happening there. 

With automation and integrations of IoT devices into manufacturing equipment, managers can remotely monitor the different activities on the shop floor. However, that is not a valid excuse for not physically visiting the shop floor. Seeing and physically interacting with the frontline workers can create a difference in production results.

Most companies that use this principle recommend that managers go for a Gemba walk at least once weekly to see what their teams are up to. Amazon is one of the popular companies that use this principle. The company encourages its managers to work for some time in customer service. This enables them to listen and learn about the problems Amazon customers face. 

The major benefits of the Gemba principle

Creates a bond between management and frontline workers

When managers interact with operators in the factory during Gemba walks, they get a chance to learn about the challenges these frontline workers go through during their operations. Sometimes managers can have casual conversations with the operators to create a rapport that is needed if they want everyone to open up. Ultimately this improves the relationship between frontline workers and their supervisors.

It allows brainstorming of ideas and solutions for problems

Sometimes frontline workers don’t get the opportunity to share their ideas during company meetings. It is also much better to find solutions to a problem while in the exact scene of the problem.  

Five principles for successful Gemba walks.

  1. Every Gemba walk needs to have a purpose. This requires managers to plan their Gemba walks ahead of time. 
  2. A clear understanding of the processes. Supervisors and managers need a clear understanding of the operations on the shop floor. 
  3. The person doing the Gemba walk should be familiar with the area they intend to visit. 
  4. Managers and supervisors must be aware of their biases while interacting with frontline workers. 
  5. The right questions should be asked. Managers need to seek answers for the “five Ws.”, which include “what the task is,” “who is doing the task,” “where the task is taking place,” “when the task is done,” and “why the task is being done.”

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