Monday, February 14, 2011

Going to Gemba

by Pascal Dennis

Most of us know the value of going to Gemba and few disputes that it’s the right thing to do. So why do so few Executives actually “Go to Gemba”?

The most common issue I hear is they don’t have time to “Go to Gemba”. There is some truth in that so here are a couple of potential countermeasures that will create time for leaders. Biggest item is to spend less time on e-mail. It’s a business killer complete with interruptions and distractions that break your train of thought. Instead, get out of the office and put away the BlackBerry or iPhone and spend time walking around actually talking to employees.

Not just idle chit chat but actually talking about the business. Learn what is actually happening, seek employee input, listen for obstacles preventing them from doing their job, and help them solve their problems in a way which is consistent with the values of the organization. Teach people to fish rather than just giving them a fish. Imagine the power behind that.

Another method to use is the half hour meeting. Each meeting needs to have a Purpose, Agenda and Expected Outcome. Without that we just have milling around which becomes a huge time waster. Follow a set process and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in half the time.

I’m often amazed by the synergistic effect between these two. The more time spent at Gemba, the more you know about what’s actually happening, so the less time you need to spend in meetings trying to figure out what’s going on, and the faster you’ll solve small problems before they become large business killers.


  1. Dennis: I see this behaviour all the time. I am wondering what is the mindset that controls this behaviour? I think it in connected with a mindset which belives that all decisions can be made with data and data alone.

  2. I think you're right, there are many causes for this behavior but the mindset that says the computer sees all and knows all and that business is strictly a data driven activity is key. To lead sucessfully we need to engage both our left and right brains - the analytic as well as the intuitive side. The intuitive side gets developed at Gemba which allows us to connect the dots.
    The other reality is that it's easy to stay in the office. Going to Gemba puts leaders in a vulnerable position. Many are not comfortable with that so we need to help them by making hte workplace visible and giving them a standard drill to use.

  3. Good discussion. Building on Al's comments, in some cultures the underlying mental model appears to be: "The further you are from the gemba -- the more important you are!"

    More mature companies understand that nothing beats personal observation.

    They also recognize that there is no shame -- only honour, in fact -- in "getting your hands dirty"

    Pascal Dennis