A Response to "Gemba, Schmemba"

Kent Blumberg: The Gemba – what it is and why leaders should care

Kent, a reader of and sometimes commenter on this blog, found a blog (“The Corporate Cynic”) that made a wild and uninformed attack on the Toyota Production System concept of “gemba.”

In the original post, the Cynic ranted, in part:

“I never found out what Gemba means. Is it an acronym? Consultants love acronyms. Is it a classical Greek word? Consultants with PhDs love to use Greek.. Personally, I really don’t care.”

If the Cynic wasn’t too lazy to do a quick google search on the term, he would have learned what “gemba” is and what gemba is not. It’s easy to dismiss his as uninformed rantings.

While it doesn’t really deserve the time involved in a response, Kent put together a good response on his blog that prompted some good comments.

Kent said, in part:

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.

Amen, Kent. Go visit Kent’s blog to read his full thoughts and the reader comments.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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3 Comments on "A Response to "Gemba, Schmemba""

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  1. Mike says:

    After reading the Corporate Cynic’s blog, it appears this person has some deep-seated grievances with some former leaders. I think he is trying to work out some issues because he feels powerless to make any real changes in his situation.

    Or maybe the Cynic is just another internet windbag.

  2. Jerome Alexander says:

    I very much appreciate your printing only a portion of my post taken totally out of the context of the entire article, my previous article that it was written in adjunct with, the spirit of the blog and the philosophy of the Corporate Cynic.

    I can see that the wrath of Gemba devotees has been unleashed! I realize that there is an entire industry built upon selling these programs and that certain adherents consider them
    to be akin to a religion. More importantly, I realize that that there are alot of people who
    depend upon these programs to earn a living. I am not talking about salesmen here. I am referring
    to the good people who are employed by companies who use these tools properly to stay
    competitive and keep their workers employed.

    Take it easy, Guys! The poor little old Corporate Cynic isn’t going to dissuade some CEO from picking up Business Week or the Wall Street Journal, seeing the words Gemba and Toyota in the same sentence and glomming on for whatever reason.You’re giving me
    too much credit. Very few executives have ever taken any of my advice let alone asked for it.

    I could have easily titled the article: The Kaiser’s Kaizen, 5S What a Mess, The Stigma of Six Sigma, or TQM Mayhem and written about how these programs have been rammed down my throat as pannaceas only to watch them fail miserably due to lack of support,
    meddling and misuse by top management. I suppose that might have solicited the same response.

    So if I have offended anyone, a thousand pardons! I was unfamiliar with Gemba. To The
    Corporate Cynic, however, it’s just more of the same. Visit the blog and perhaps get a dose of
    reality and cynical humor. Every company is not Toyota. There are many wannabees that just talk the talk but can’t walk the walk. I know, I’ve worked for them.

    And Mike, The blog has indeed given this windbag a tool that just might help effect some change in a poor leader’s conduct that might result in a better situation for everyone.

  3. Mark Graban says:

    Jerome –

    Look, I linked to your blog if readers wanted to go hear more of your “humor.” Scott Adams, you’re not.

    If you would take the time to read the context of THIS blog, you would see that I am as critical as anybody of companies that “implement” lean methods badly.

    It’s one thing to attack the concept and another to attack the way management treats the concept. I know, first hand, that the Gemba approach can help, when implemented properly.

    You, on the other hand, ranted about something you admitted you didn’t care to learn about, as in “What’s this gravity crap? I don’t know if gravity is a Japanese word, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that things always fall down.”

    This is why I hesitated to give you and your blog this exposure. You don’t have to convince me that your ill-informed rantings have never had influence on those idiot managers you complain about.

    Mark

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