QUERI – Quality Enhancement Research Initiative

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Quality Improvement Methods

18. Gemba and Genchi Genbutsu

a. Definition: A principle developed in the Toyota/Lean method is to "go and see" or to be a direct observer of actual operations ("Gemba" is Japanese for "the real place" and "Genchi Genbutsu" means "go and see"). Only by standing at the workplace and walking among the people doing the work can one really understand a process. This is a necessary and early step in the improvement process. It refers to an attitude of not merely relying on reports and the opinion of others but making direct observations of the work being studied.

b. Literature:

  • Womack, James P. Gemba Walks. Lean Enterprise Institute, 2011.
  • Imai, Masaaki. Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management McGraw-Hill, 1997.

c. Example: A hospital decided it needed to improve a particular ancillary department. A team of people from various departments were gathered to address the problem. At the first meeting of the team the leader said, "We must do a Gemba Walk, perhaps more than one." This meant all the team members were to spend several hours standing in and walking about the department being studied. It was done to observe the equipment, the workspace, how the staff functioned, as well as to build relationships for further work on the project. It was helpful to follow patients during their visit to the department as well as to follow staff. Prior to the Gemba Walk, the team members all had opinions about the department being studied but it was helpful to see firsthand any problems, hazards, wastes as well as opportunities for improvement. This step may seem obvious but it is not always employed when people feel they already know the issues or are familiar with an area.

d. Steps: A Gemba Walk involves being in the workplace. This could be a onetime visit or a series of visits on different days or time of the day. The Gemba may be more effective if the observer is assigned a task such as finding one or more of the specific types of waste as defined by the Lean method (see Section 20). Moreover, the Gemba is more effective if the observer is trained in how best to do observing and what to look for; for example, training to identify the various types of waste may be helpful. Toyota employed the idea of drawing a chalk circle on the floor and telling the observer to stand inside the circle while doing the observing to assure that the observation was done in the proper place.