Candidates at the Gemba


Video – Breaking News Videos from

Sort of a funny video (linked above) on CNN/Headline News about presidential candidates being “clueless” about what they're seeing on the campaign trail and factory tours. The Headline News version (which I can't find online) had overlays that read:

  • “Clueless on the Campaign Trail”
  • “Candidates often don't know what they're looking at on business tours”
  • “Candidates have some silly questions, don't seem to understand the answers”
  • “Candidates do a lot of nodding when they don't understand tours”

Maybe Headline News doesn't rank high on the “respect for candidates” scale, but they're certainly fair game for mocking.

Now, a highly choreographed plant tour is not exactly the same as true “gemba time” where leaders walk (or just stand) and observe the process, talking to people in a less scripted (or non-scripted) way.

It can be tough being in a gemba when you don't really know the process. I know I've had my “clueless” moments the first time I've done through a particular hospital department. Even your own company executives might not really know what's going on… so to those of you hosting gemba visits, please be patient. If the visitor is really trying, be patient with them.

When Sen. McCain (left, click for larger view) was looking through a microscope and asked what he saw, the host explained they were colon cancer cells. McCain said “There are no stupid questions, right?” That's far better than pretending you know what's going on, don't you think?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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