Where is value-added work done for your customer? Is it in your office or elsewhere? Most likely it is done on the shop floor. Genchi Gembutsu is a concept where a manager is expected to be out where the work is being done to solve problems, look for improvements, and make decisions based on first-hand observation and experience. 

This article will explain how you should act to be consistent with the Genchi Gembutsu concept, the benefits of doing so, and some best practices for implementing it in your organization. 

Overview: What is Genchi Gembutsu? 

Taiichi Ohno is credited with the development of the Toyota Production System (TPS), the foundation of Lean Manufacturing. Genchi Gembutsu, often spelled Genchi Genbutsu, is a foundational concept of TPS. Ohno believed the ability to make informed decisions and solve business problems required a manager to have first-hand experience of the situation. This means having to actually go to the source and see how the process is working. 

Ohno felt that information gathered in reports or statistics did not represent the reality of what was going on but served as a surrogate. Only by observing the work can a manager truly know reality.

Genchi Gembutsu should be considered the way your organization does things and not an arbitrary intermittent activity. It should be a daily habit versus a unique event. The first thing you need to do is identify your Genchi, or place that has your Gembutsu, or source of the work or problem. The following activities will help you immerse yourself in carrying out your go and see:

  • First-hand and hands-on: Immerse yourself in the process by experiencing how value is created and waste is generated. If feasible, actually participate in the process and actually do the work.
  • Observe: Viewing the work from the outside will allow you to be more objective in what you observe. Look for possible root causes of problems, opportunities for improvements, and inconsistencies in how the work is done.
  • Talk to the people doing the work: Use formal and informal interviews and surveys to learn about how people think and feel about the work they are doing. 
  • Data: Consider using current and historical process data to understand how the process is currently performing and how it has performed in the past. But, don’t rely solely on this information without confirming it in the real world. 

This quote sums up what Ohno meant about managers immersing themselves in the process of Genchi Gembutsu:

“… Managers should be so engaged with the shop floor, that they have to wash their hands at least three times a day.” – Taiichi Ohno 

Now that you understand what Genchi Gembutsu is, you may be wondering whether it is different from Gemba or Genba. The answer is yes and no. There is some dispute whether the difference is significant since both describe a place or where the work is being done. 

There seems to be agreement that the difference is small but significant. Gemba refers to going to the generic place of where the work is being done. Genchi Gembutsu is going to the source to be sure you have the right information for making a good decision. 

Gemba is a place; Genchi Gembutsu is an action. 

If you’d like, read a further explanation of why you see two different spellings for Gemba/Genba and Gembutsu/Genbutsu.

3 benefits of Genchi Gembutsu 

Observing how work is being done in the workplace helps managers understand what their process is doing and how problems can be solved and processes improved.

1. Easier to spot problems 

Observing in real time and on site makes it easier to see problems and root causes versus sitting in an office reviewing reports. 

2. Solicit input 

Being in the place where the work is done gives the manager a chance to ask questions and receive input and feedback from the people doing the work.

3. Better decisions 

Having first-hand knowledge from personal observation provides better context for making decisions. 

Why is Genchi Gembutsu important to understand? 

Once you accept that Genchi Gembutsu is a daily habit and not an intermittent event, you will have a better understanding why this concept is important for continuous improvement of your processes. 

Key to success for TPS

TPS is based on the concept of getting out the waste (MUDA) in your process. Employing Genchi Gembutsu will have you on the floor, observing where waste is being created by your process. 

Problems on the floor need to be solved on the floor 

The only way to truly understand your process is to be immersed in it. You will have more efficient and effective problem-solving experiences at the local level than in a conference room or office somewhere else in the building. 

It is a habit, not an event 

Genchi Gembutsu should become a cultural way of doing things and not an obligatory trek to the floor. Managers at all levels should be on the floor trying to understand how their product or service is created. 

Some industry examples of Genchi Gembutsu 

Here is a list of applications for applying Genchi Gembutsu in an organization.

  • If you want to know the current status of an important shipment, get up and go to the shipping department.
  • If you have a supplier problem, go to their shop floor to understand the issue and try to resolve the problem with them.
  • If you want to understand your customers’ needs, go and observe how they are using your product.
  • If you want to understand why workers don’t seem excited about coming to work, have lunch where they eat, use their bathrooms, and hang out in their break room. Maybe offer to help with the actual work if company and union rules permit it.
  • If you need some information from finance, don’t send an email. Stand up, walk down the hall, say hello, and ask for it. Obviously, you don’t have to do this all the time, but try it judiciously for a change.

3 best practices when thinking about Genchi Gembutsu 

Make Genchi Gembutsu part of your daily work habit. Here are a few tips for doing that. 

1. Schedule your visit to the floor 

Block out your calendar to assure you get to the floor on a daily basis or as often as is feasible. Early morning is usually a good time to review what happened the day or shift before and before you get wrapped up in the day’s activities, meetings, phone calls, and other distractions. 

2. Listen rather than talk 

Your task is to observe and listen. Don’t get pulled into diversions or distractions. If you are there to help solve a problem, listen to the people doing the work rather than pontificating on what you think should be done. 

3. Take some time to get to know your people 

There is no expectation that your visit to the workplace is for social purposes. But, take some time to get to know your people. And above all, be respectful in any interaction with them.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Genchi Gembutsu

1. What is the literal meaning of Genchi Gembutsu? 

A literal translation is the actual place, actual thing. It is often referred to as a process to go and see.

2. Who developed Genchi Gembutsu? 

Taiichi Ohno of Toyota developed the phrase and concept as an important part of the Toyota Production System.

3. What are the Three Reals? 

They are three terms in the Lean lexicon that stand for Reality, Real Place, and Real Thing. In Japanese they are Genjitsu, Gemba, and Genbutsu.

Final thoughts on Genchi Gembutsu 

Plan on taking some time everyday to go to the actual place to see the actual thing. That is the essence of Genchi Gembutsu.

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