Genba – Kaizen – Japaneese Management Philosophy

Genba  is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.” Japanese detectives call the crime scene genba, and Japanese TV reporters may refer to themselves as reporting from genba. In business, genba refers to the place where value is created; in manufacturing the genba is the factory floor. It can be any “site” such as a construction site, sales floor or where the service provider interacts directly with the customer.

 In lean manufacturing, the idea of genba is that the problems are visible, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to the genba. The genba walk, much like Management By Walking Around (MBWA), is an activity that takes management to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities to practice genba kaizen, or practical shopfloor improvement.

 In quality management, genba means the manufacturing floor and the idea is that if a problem occurs, the engineers must go there to understand the full impact of the problem, gathering data from all sources. Unlike focus groups and surveys, genba visits are not scripted or bound by what one wants to ask.

 Glenn Mazur introduced this term into Quality Function Deployment (QFD, a quality system for new products where manufacturing has not begun) to mean the customer’s place of business or lifestyle. The idea is that to be customer-driven, one must go to the customer’s genba to understand his problems and opportunities, using all one’s senses to gather and process data.

A term commonly used in Japan is gemba kaizen. It is an expression that conveys commitment to continuous improvement of practices and processes as a business philosophy. Translated to English “gemba” means shopfloor and “kaizen” means continuous improvement. This certificate prepares students/workers to actively participate in implementing ongoing, world-class manufacturing activities necessary to keep their company globally competitive now and into the future.

The term “gemba” was introduced to Westerners by Masaaki Imai in 1997 to describe the “real place” where products are developed and made, and where services are provided. Small kaizen enhancements to these key operations will multiply into greater success and profits many times over. One of the more attractive features of gemba kaizen as a management philosophy is its independence from technology, complex procedures, or equipment, because gemba kaizen techniques focus on techniques like total quality management, just-in-time, total product maintenance, and visual management to deliver maximum quality. For some companies, gemba kaizen has become a leading philosophy for implementing “lean thinking” into their processes and products. The result has been elimination of waste (in terms of materials, effort, money, time, etc.) and an improvement in fiscal performance. Not surprisingly, gemba kaizen’s approaches to eliminating waste are also one of the easiest and least costly steps to take in improving environmental performance.

The concept of gemba management has its own “golden rules”, and the first rule is: when a problem arises, go to gemba first. Much of what occurs in gemba can be passed off as routine, repetitive, and even boring work tasks, but it’s amazing how often we tend to overlook the importance of understanding the processes in gemba to financial and environmental performance. To take the concept of gemba performance to its ultimate level of simplicity, gemba kaizen offers the “5S” steps of good housekeeping:

Seire: Distinguish between necessary and unnecessary items in gemba and discard the latter.
Seiton: Arrange all items remaining after seiri in an orderly manner.
Seiso: Keep machines and working environments clean.
Seiketsu: Extend the concept of cleanliness to oneself and continuously practice the above three steps. Shitsuke: Build self-discipline and make a habit of engaging in the 5S by establishing standards.

Western companies typically modify the above approach into the following 5S:
Sort: separate out all that is unnecessary and eliminate it.
Straighten: Put essential things in order so that they can be easily accessed.
Scrub: Clean everything — tools and workplaces — removing stains, spots, and debris and eradicating sources of dirt.
Systematize: Make cleaning and checking routine.
Standardize: Standardize the previous four steps to make the process one that never ends and can be improved upon.

If  pondering what steps to take to improve environmental, health, and safety performance as operating budgets continue to tighten, go to gemba.

Gemba Kaizen is a practical guide to implementing kaizen in any business by teaching employees how to pay attention to details, use common sense and work smarter to boost results where they will do the most good.

kaizen masaki

It is a method of improving operations in order to convert our business into a self-sustaining, continually improving, visually controlled workplace.

In Japanese gemba means real place, the place where real action occurs and where the value-adding activities occur. When the earthquakes shook Kobe in January 1995, TV reporters at the scene referred to themselves as “reporting from gemba”. In business, the value-adding activities that satisfy the customer happen in gemba. In particular all businesses practices three major activities directly related to earning profit: developing, producing and selling. Without these activities a company cannot exist. Therefore in a broad sense, gemba means the sites of these three major activities.

Masaaki Imai says “Gemba Kaizen is when Kaizen is used in the gemba, for which there are three basic steps—pay attention to housekeeping, eliminate waste and standardize”.
As Masaaki Imay says “the workplace is viewed with a great deal of reverence in Japan. The place where your product is being manufactured is sacred. In many Western firms, managers treat the gemba as lowly and fit only for lower level employees. So they sit in their fancy cabins and make decisions based on what we would call ‘fabricated data’.
visit the gemba for a more hands-on experience”. In kaizen management are encouraged to take a deep interest in and to keep in close touch with gemba and to visit it regularly. This is quite different from western practices. In the West it is suggested that the management generally have little contact with gemba. They are largely desk-bound. They are happy to distance themselves from what actually happens at gemba.

After Toyota achieved Just in Time production, they starter looking at their vendors. Their autonomous study group was formed under Taiti Ohno. The group visited gemba of a vendor each month and conducted Gemba kaizen for three or four days. This proved to be very effective.
Toyota began conducting Kaizen Blitz to suppliers in the early seventies, which involved the movement of machinery, modifying equipment, change in electrical connection, etc.

Masaaki Imai first advanced his kaizen theory in his book “Kaizen the key to Japan’s competitive success” in the mid-1980s. He expanded this idea in late 1990s in “Gemba kaizen: a commonsense, low-cost approach to management”, a sequel to the first book. In this book Imai emphasizes how to maximize the results of kaizen by applying it to gemba – business processes involved in the manifacture of products and the rendering of services, areas of business where the real action takes place.
He posits that Japan has succeeded in implementing this philosophy because of the way the role of the Japanese supervisor evolved. According to Imai, Japanese supervisors are given precise descriptions of their roles and accountability, enabling them to control processes on a regular basis.

They are empowered to manage the work and the workforce through specific supervisory skills. Moreover, the emphasis on learning and performing these skills at the actual work site provided the groundwork for the gemba philosophy, a central component of both kaizen and the Toyota Production System.

Kaizen gives supervisors the responsibility of managing the five Ms (manpower, material, machines, methods and measurement) that allow workers to produce the output of production identified as: quality, cost, delivery, morale and safety.
How this translates onto the job floor can be seen in the following list of supervisory responsibilities:

  • prepare work standards (job instructions)
  • provide training and make certain that operators do their job according to standards
  • improve the status quo by improving standards
  • take notice of abnormalities and address them right away
  • create a good working environment

Gemba kaizen advocates that manager must maintain meaningful contact with the operational side of the event in order to track potential sources of risk.

Gemba is a place where manufacturing activities are conducted, as well as the place where employees have direct contact with customers in the service sector. Gemba can be dining room of a hotel, a car dealer’s service department or a doctor’s examination room. One place that is not gemba is the manager’s desk. According to Imai, managers often avoid going to gemba because they do not want to be embarrassed by their ignorance.

In kaizen management go to gemba regularly. They stay in one spot for several minutes and observe reality. In so doing they learn much. They will identifiy many areas that can be improved with little, or no, cost to the organization. Imai provides five simple but golden rules for gemba management:

  • when an abnormality arises go to gemba first
  • check the gembutsu (the relevant item)
  • take temporary countermeasures on the spot
  • find and remove the root cause
  • standardize to prevent recurrence

Gemba should be the site of all improvements and the source of all information. Therefore, magement must maintain close contact with the realities of gemba in order to solve whatever problems arise there.


Maintaining gemba at the top of the management structure requires committed employes. Workers must be inspired to fulfil their roles, to feel proud of their jobs, and to appreciate the contribution they make to their company and society. Instilling a sense of mission and pride is an integral parte of management’s responsibility for gemba.

Komatsu’s Genba Philosophy Underpins a Tradition of Product Support

As a means of finding customer solutions, Komatsu has been using an approach that places emphasis on the genba, or workplace where the customer actually operates the equipment, to steadily solve each issue. Especially in the early days, when  business centered on exports from Japan, many Japanese engineers were assigned around the world to provide product support. In order to carry on this tradition throughout the Komatsu Group Network, including  distributors,  have been making concerted efforts to provide training.

Komatsu Support Extends to Managerial Training
Komatsu has been hosting Global Training Institute (GTI), an 11-week program to strengthen and promote the professional development of middle management staff of product support divisions at its subsidiaries and distributors. Besides business strategies in the mining and construction and utilities businesses, the GTI program focuses on quality assurance activities, the KOMATSU Way as exemplified by the concept of a Win-Win-Win (beneficial for customers, distributors and Komatsu as a manufacturer) relationship and Kaizen activities, as well as various programs for the execution of business operations. Training is provided at optimal genbas, mainly at Komatsu bases in Europe and the United States in addition to Japan, in order for participants to learn about respective business fields. Lecturers are primarily from within Komatsu, including members of top management, directors and managers. Thanks to this training program, Kaizen activities, which have been formulated during the program period and brought back to participants’ home countries, have contributed to producing tangible results.

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