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Genchi Genbutsu (現地現物) means "go and see for yourself" and it is an integral part of the Toyota Production System. It refers to the fact that any information about a process will be simplified and abstracted from its context when reported. This has often been one of the key reasons why solutions designed away from the process seem inappropriate.

Application

The notion is that rather than simply hear or read about a problem and make a suggestion for improvement, one should actually go to its direct location and experience the situation first hand. All too often an issue is raised on a conference call, in a meeting, in the board room or even over email. Then, from the remote location, a solution is created (by a team or sometimes an individual) with the intention of alleviating the circumstances. It is as if a doctor in New York is called for a consult from a fellow colleague in Seattle and by simply listening to a description of the patient and the presented symptoms he correctly diagnoses the medical problem and prescribes the proper course of treatment and medication. Even if he was sent X-rays, cat scans and lab results, an accurate conclusion is highly unlikely. Thus, Genchi Genbutsu says that the only course of action to take is for the doctor in New York to fly to Seattle so that he can examine the patient himself.

This attitude of Genchi Genbutsu is also called Gemba attitude. Gemba is the Japanese term for "the place" in this case 'the place where it actually happens'. Gemba attitude is about making decisions such that the observed needs of the Gemba are a priority rather than treating it as just the place where things happen and hands get dirty. Perhaps this idea serves as a counterbalance to what has been called 'bean-counter' management and attempts to redress the balance, e.g. Toyota versus General Motors. Toyota appears to believe that if the processes are right the money will follow, whereas General Motors appears to have gone where the money is.

Also, sometimes referred to as "Getcha your boots on" (and go out and see what is happening) due to its similar cadence and meaning. It has also been compared to Peters and Waterman's idea of "management by wandering around" or (MBWA), put forward in In Search of Excellence.[1]. Whilst these ideas, with their associated lists of how-tos, are probably good ideas they may miss the essential nature of Genchi Genbutsu which is less to 'visit' and more to 'know' by being there. Toyota has high levels of management presence on the production line whose role is to 'know' and to constantly improve.

Implementation

"Gemba attitude" reflects the idea that whatever reports and measures and ideas are transmitted to management they are only an abstraction of what is actually going on in the "Gemba" to create value. Metrics and reports will reflect the attitudes of the management questioner and the workplace responder as well as how the responder views the questioner. The question will be posed in terms of what management think they know and the response will as a minimum try to simplify actual activity so that the response is deemed understood and acceptable. Sometimes this abstraction is specified by a measure definition and agreed terminology in many cases not; this definition may have been relevant to one question but not so much to the new one being asked.

Actually looking and being in the workplace allows both activity 'snapshots' and work 'processes' to be observed in their full context making theory generation and decision making directly relevant, therefore more powerful and better understood. It also increases the chance that actual issues and unplanned events will be observed first hand and can be managed immediately; this includes issues that are not apparent to the "Gemba" workforce.

References

  1. ^ Peters, Thomas J. and Robert H. Waterman Jr. (1982), In Search of Excellence: Lessons From America's Best Run Companies. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Jeffrey Liker. The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles From The World's Greatest Manufacturer. McGraw Hill, 2003.
  • Jeffrey Liker, David Meier. The Toyota Way Fieldbook. McGraw Hill, 2005.
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