The Power of Gemba

the Game-Changing Japanese Concept for Quality and Efficiency

This Japanese concept is a game changer. This is exactly what helps the quality of your products/services to get to another level.
The best part, you can get a competitive advantage simply by practicing it.
Not everyone knows about this concept or realizes its importance or understands the value of practicing it.
So let's get right to it.

Gemba Concept

Gemba from Japanese is "the actual place". It is usually referred to as the place where the work is done. Think of a factory floor, service room, kitchen, development office, etc.
And the concept I am talking about is going to the Gemba. Going with the purpose to observe the actual process, understand the work, ask questions, and learn about what is going on from those who do the work.

This is the #1 thing every manager must do to identify waste and opportunities for quality or efficiency improvements. Managers that never go down to the production (be it digital work or actual manufacturing) and implement or suggest improvements do not have that level of understanding of how the actual work is getting done and what improvements will be the needle movers.

Moreover, those kinds of managers, do not have any personal connections with the front-line team members and hence their improvement strategies (even if they are good) may end up in a complete fiasco as none of the front-line team members were committed to changes.
As you can see going to Gemba is not only about learning the process firsthand, it is as well about building trust and relationships with your front-line team members which in the long run will pay off!

You will often hear the Japanese saying genchi genbutsu, which translates to go and see.
Go to gemba and genchi genbutsu are used almost interchangeably.

The idea though is still the same: go and see for yourself.
Now that you wrapped your mind around the concept, I'll give you a few examples from daily observations as well as business life on how the Gemba concept makes a difference.

Restaurant Example

If you like dining out, I am sure you had experiences of bad service vs good service in a restaurant.
What you did not pay attention to, probably, is where was the manager in a bad-service restaurant vs a good-service restaurant.
I guarantee you, that restaurants where you can see managers at gemba (on the floor) have a way better service, than restaurants where you don't see a manager at all.

Managers spending time at gemba, of course, does not automatically make a huge difference. What is important is the manager's goal of being at gemba. If it is to improve, then you will see the difference. If it is just to move around and do nothing, then the gemba concept is completely useless.

In other words, make sure everyone goes to gemba with a specific purpose in mind.

Gym Example

Here is another example where going to gemba makes a huge difference in customer experience.
Compare two gyms, where the trainer (or gym manager) regularly exercises (uses gym equipment) and where the trainer (or gym manager) usually sits behind the bar and scrolls his/her phone.

Those are gyms with 2 completely different experiences. Gym where a trainer regularly goes to gemba will have the equipment well-maintained and clean, all the weights in their places, and the thermostat set just to the right temperature.

The other one may have better equipment, but a complete disorder and disaster.

Marketing Agency

This is a little bit more complex situation, as usually there are no physical locations to go to and see for yourself. Going to the designer's office and staring at him/her, won't give you any insights into how work is done and what are the issues.

Imagine that your marketing agency is growing and now you have to put somebody in charge of approving the designs. You probably feel the weight on your shoulders now as you are a very detail-oriented person and your approval process is to a certain extent unique.

You hired a project manager (PM) and decided to test him out on the approval process.
The result is obvious, a complete disaster, your PM failed the test.

The usual decision that business owners take by now is to get the approval process back and remove PM's responsibility from approvals.
What everyone forgets about is gemba. The right choice here is to go and see for yourself.
That's the perfect moment to go and see what PM does wrong and how to improve his approval process.
Oftentimes, it is necessary to send a PM to gemba as well so that he/she can see how a designer works and how every design is built.

After a few rounds on gemba, the delegation process will go smoother. Additionally, by this time you've gained more experience in delegation and potentially put some Q&A or training materials together.


I bet by this time you can already see opportunities of sending people to gemba or going to gemba by yourself in your business as well.

The rule of thumb is to go to gemba if:

This is easily convertible to the third-person as well. Send your people to gemba if you want them to learn more, identify issues, build relationships, etc.

One simple concept - so many great benefits.
This is the Power of Gemba!

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