Thursday, July 7, 2011


I read a recent blog by Mark Graban in his Lean Blog that I found intriguing and wanted to pass it on to you.

The basic theme is – there is more to “Go to Gemba” than just showing up. We hear a lot about the need to “Go To Gemba” but if we just go and hang around then we go back to management by walking around and that’s not what we want. Rather we want to “Go to Gemba” with a purpose. We need to have a clear understanding of what we are trying to do. If not, we face the problems Mark Graban describes in a recent blog:

Lean Thinkers might wonder “what is bad about going to the Gemba?” Well, going to the Gemba could be a bad idea and could make things worse if leaders exhibit the wrong kind of behaviours. This old urban legend helps articulate that in a cheeky way:

Thanks to the site, a site that debunks (or verifies) urban legends and myths, here is one version of a classic factory story:
[Braude, 1965]

The proprietor of a shop was once passing during the packing room and noticed a boy lounging towards a field and whistling cheerfully. Thinking of all his cash being wasted on this sort of exertions, the corporation requested gruffly, “How much do you get a week?” “Ten dollars,” the boy spoke back. “Here’s your pay for the week,” stated the person. “Now get out!” On his as far back as the administrative center, the shop proprietor bumped into the foreman and requested him, “When did we hire that boy, and who is responsible for hiring him?”  “We never hired him,” the foreman stated. “He was just delivering a package from another firm.”

The story is a silly one, but it illustrates one possible failure mode involved with going to the Gemba – jumping to conclusions and making on-the-spot top-down decisions out of anger. The words of Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho, “Go see, ask why, show respect” are now famous as basic lean principles.

Thanks to Mark for this story which is a great example of “Go to Gemba” with no clear purpose where we only do the first of the three parts of “Go to Gemba” which is “Go See”.  What we should be doing is all three parts so that we “Go See” but more importantly “Ask Why” based on what we have observed so that we fully understand what is actually happening and finally do so with the intent of building the capability of our teams  and in doing so “Show Respect” for them. Asking questions is a Socratic way of building Team Member capability by getting them to think deeply about the situation and allows Leadership to introduce and reinforce problem solving based on their observations.

So the purpose of “Go to Gemba” is to develop a deep understanding of what is happening and to use that understanding to deepen Team Members understanding and so the Team Members ability to use that understanding to solve problems. Ultimately, we develop many problem solvers in the organization. Without this clear purpose, Leadership can turn “Go to Gemba” into a very different experience from its initial intent.

Al Norval


  1. Thanks for sharing Al. This really hit home this past week when we had Steve Spear in plant for a class on rapid improvements. I participated with a small team in the warehouse practicing these three principles as well as sweating off 20 lbs!

    Todd Kibler

  2. Well done Todd. Too often we see Executives giving excuses for not going to Gemba - "It's too hot" or when they do go see, they short change it by not taking the time to ask why and use the opportubity to build the capability of their Team Members.
    Building Gemba time into a daily routine via Leader Standard work becomes critical to overcoming this problem.