Toyota’s secret to the long term success of their Toyota Production System (TPS) is actually pretty simple! It’s not even a secret. It’s also really straight forward. It’s captured in a single word. Know what it is?
During and since working at Toyota, I’ve been asked many times what the secret sauce is that makes Toyota and TPS such a long term success! It’s absolutely true that TPS is a comprehensive multi-dimensional system or mechanism about which many books have been written explaining it in great detail. There is no doubt many powerful principles and tools within it. It is built on the fundamental principles of respect for people and continuous improvement. My intention is not to diminish the integration or thoroughness of TPS, but my single word response to the secret sauce question is,
I wholeheartedly believe in respect for people and have a huge passion for continuous improvement, and the best way to create, drive and sustain both is by Gemba!
In addition to providing a means to achieving the principles of respect for people and continuous improvement, the top 5 reasons for conducting gemba are revealed in the spelling of the word itself and are:
Go See the actual condition – in similar fashion as the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”, seeing is believing! Gemba allows all participants to see the same thing firsthand. The good, bad and the ugly! This is powerful because there is nothing left to someone else’s interpretation and/or communication. There is no opportunity to hide, exaggerate, or underestimate the conditions or impact through misunderstanding, poor communication, or lack of familiarity of the process. Gemba also provides alignment of what is happening or not happening.
Go and see is so powerful, I once scheduled a meeting with the President of Toyota, on the roof!
Engagement – Gemba is an incredible way to engage openly between all levels. Asking questions to understand surfaces issues, barriers, abnormalities, ideas, and potential solutions. It provides opportunities for operators to voice their opinions and become directly involved in being part of a solution. Gemba facilitates clarity of leadership direction, and teaching and learning opportunities of all involved. It is an effective way to follow-up on previous actions and their effectiveness. Gemba also is a great time for leaders to challenge, encourage, motivate, and of course recognize the efforts and results of their teams.
Man, Machine, Material, Method (4Ms) – Gemba allows teams to focus their attention on the 4Ms to identify barriers and wastes impacting the operation or process. The focus of a Gemba could focus on all the 4Ms, several, or a specific one depending on the desired intent or the situation. The focus on the 4Ms helps train and develop the team on waste identification and is the engine of continuous improvement.
Barriers – Another reason for gemba is to identify barriers either creating a form of waste in the process, or impacting the completion or desired impact of identified actions and solutions. This is very important in order to first identify necessary actions for improvement, and then when reviewing previous actions to demonstrate support to the team, speed up progress, and keep the team motivated by reducing frustration.
Action– Gemba must result in some kind of action. To me this is not only a must, I believe it is unavoidable. When everyone sees the same things creating impact, questions are inevitable, followed by the generation of ideas to resolve the issues. This occurs by default. Prioritization and elimination of the identified actions need to happen next. Once the immediate actions are determined and agreed upon, ownership and completion dates are imperative. Timely follow-up of all actions is very important to drive urgency, identify barriers and where help or clarification is needed, and provide additional opportunities for all aspects of engagement.
So not only are the reasons for Gemba hidden in plain sight of the letters of the word, the reasons for Gemba also propagate the entire philosophy of continuous improvement by naturally creating a never ending cycle of Gemba.
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