President Obama at “the Gemba”


Keeping things light on a Saturday… New York Magazine has a funny photo story series of President Obama on tours of different factories and laboratories (hat tip to @counternotions on Twitter). The series is called “A History of Obama Feigning Interest in Mundane Things“). I use the term “gemba” (for those who don't know it) since it's a common term in the Lean methodology (a Japanese word) that means the place where work is done – the shopfloor in a factory or the point of care in a hospital.

As with any executive visit, a staged “dog and pony” show likely doesn't show a real reality. As a British friend says:

“The Queen of England thinks the world smells like fresh paint.”

I know the point of the President touring these places isn't to inculcate a Lean notion of management and process improvement… but it's funny see these pictures that are reminiscent of any bad factory tour. Photo #20 in the series reminds me of the famous Toyota concept — the “Ohno Circle.” The Ohno Circle (more from Industry Week) was invented by Toyota's Taiichi Ohno. A new manager or other student would be made to stand in a chalk outline that Ohno had drawn on the ground. The person would have to stand and watch, often, for an entire shift. You would observe and see a far greater level of detail and more waste than you would see in a short “drive-by Gemba,” as some people call them, where you just walk through quickly and don't see anything in a significant way.

The New York Magazine's funny caption for Photo #20 said that President Obama resented having to stand in a red square.

In a way, it could also look like “Bad 5S” or “L.A.M.E. 5S” (as in this case from a UK accountancy) if the tape square had been labeled “Commander in Chief”!!!

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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.


  1. Maybe we could get some tape squares in the Congress, labeled “Republican Blowhard” and “Democratic Bloviator.”


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