One of the most powerful concepts in Six Sigma / Lean Manufacturing / Toyota System is also one of it’s simplest: Go To Gemba. Whether you are a Six Sigma blackbelt or believe it is just the flavor of the month that consultants are peddling to naive management, I’m sure you can appreciate the practicality of going to gemba.
For the uninitiated gemba is a Japanese term that is translated as “real place” or “actual place.” Going to gemba is simply visiting the actual place where work is being done or a problem is occurring.
As obvious as this concept sounds it is easy to forget in the heat of the moment. I’ve been in meetings where several engineers sat in a conference room spending 10 minutes speculating the tolerance of feature on a part. I quietly exited the room, went to my desk and printed out the drawing sheet and brought it back into the room and handed the drawing to the debating engineers. The discussion then moved forward based upon hard facts and not someone’s stale recollection.
What the go to gemba concept is really about is basing decisions on facts not on assumptions or speculation:
- Before altering a manufacturing process step, go to the manufacturing floor, observe and make sure it is a good idea. After the change is implemented return to the floor, observer and make sure it has the intended effect.
- Don’t assume a feature is going to delight your customers; observer the customer using your product then decide. It might turn out that the can’t miss feature actually impedes the customer’s most often use case.
However, what do you do when going to gemba is too expensive? If your design team, manufacturing and customers are located in the same location, going to gemba costs are minimal. Most engineers will go to gemba (manufacturing floor) as part of their daily routine. However, what if design, manufacturing and customers are separated by thousands of miles? With the cost of an international trip in the $5,000-$10,000 range going to gemba is probably cost-prohibitive for a single engineer, let alone a whole engineering team.
At Collaborate i/o we provide a cost-effective solution that allows engineering teams to go to gemba virtually. We’d love to hear what other solutions are out there. How do you deal with the huge cost associated with going to gemba when the “real place” is overseas?