A rant over on "The Corporate Cynic" got me thinking about gemba. Jerome writes that the whole concept seems to be a "goofy" gimmick that would just result in more paperwork.
He could not have been more wrong.
Gemba is a Japanese word that means the "actual place." Practitioners of lean manufacturing/lean service talk about the importance of going to the gemba in order to see for yourself what really happens. Going to the gemba is a core principle of the Toyota Way, and should be a core tool that every leader uses.
You won't solve problems at your desk. To find real solutions to real problems, you are going to need to get up, put on your safety shoes, and go out on the shop floor. (Or, put on your shopping clothes and go observe customers in your coffee shop.)
Going to the gemba is not the same as "Management By Wandering Around," another of Jerome's misconceptions. Mike Wroblewski has it right, when he describes going to the gemba as "Management By Standing Still." It's about standing where you can watch the process and staying there for hours. That's right - hours, not minutes or seconds. It's about trying to understand what is really going on.
I don't know about you, but I can't solve problems without doing this.
That having been said, Jerome does point out one real barrier to the spread of lean thinking in the US. And that is the persistent use of Japanese words that sound a bit goofy.
As Mike Schaffner points out in his summary of Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear,
"Don't make people stop thinking about your message to figure out what that word meant. Simplicity counts. "
I believe the use of Japanese words by lean experts turns off ordinary folk's ears. I suspect many people stop hearing anything when confronted with words like gemba, poke-yoke, kanban and the like. Does it really help lean implementation to use these words, which have to be translated anyway? Why not just start with the English version and avoid confustion altogether?
Lean consultants and writers, how about some words that work? How about plain English?
[Photo: "Observing" by Mr. Pierpy.]