In Japanese gemba means real place—the place where real action occurs.
Japanese use the word gemba in their daily speech. When the earthquakes shook Kobe in January 1995, TV reporters at the scene referred to themselves as “reporting from gemba”; in the background, one could see houses in flames or collapsed elevated highways. In business, the value adding activities that satisfy the customer happens in gemba. Within Japanese industry, the word gemba is almost as popular as kaizen.
Joop Bokern, one of the first KAIZEN™ consultants in Europe, had worked at Philips Electronics N.V. in Europe as production manager, as plant director, and finally as corporate quality manager. Bokern said that whenever he visited a Japanese company, he had a rule of thumb to determine whether the company was a good one or not. If, in his conversation with the Japanese manager, he heard the word KAIZEN™ within the first five minutes and the word gemba within the first ten minutes, he concluded that it must be a good company. Bokern’s example shows that KAIZEN™ and gemba are subjects
close to managers’ hearts and that they often make decisions based on their understanding of gemba.
All businesses practice three major activities directly related to earning profit: developing, producing, and selling. Without these activities, a company cannot exist. Therefore, in a broad
sense, gemba means the sites of these three major activities. In a narrower context, however, gemba means the place where the products or services are formed.
10 Benefits of Gemba-centered Approach
- Gemba’s needs are more easily identified by the people working there.
- Somebody on the line is always thinking about all kinds of problems and solutions.
- Resistance to change is minimized.
- Continual adjustment becomes possible.
- Solutions grounded in reality can be obtained.
- Solutions emphasize commonsense and low-cost approaches rather than expensive and method-oriented approaches.
- People begin to enjoy KAIZEN™ and are readily inspired.
- KAIZEN™ awareness and work efficiency can be enhanced simultaneously.
- Workers can think about KAIZEN™ while working.
- It is not always necessary to gain upper management’s approval in order to make changes.
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Acknowledgement: GEMBA KAIZEN™ book by Masaaki Imai