Although the concept of gemba is actually so brilliantly simple, it is amazing how often it has been ignored within the area of process mapping.  Gemba actually derives from a Japanese word that refers to the real place or the actual place; in other words, where the action takes place.

This is the simplicity of gemba within process mapping.  The process mapping cannot and should not take place in the abstract, it needs to be connected to the actual place where the processes take place, where the theory is put into action; in other words on the factory floor or any place where value is created.

The ‘actual place’ can be a variety of locations.  It could be the construction site or, in a call centre, the area where staff interact with customers.  It could be the retail area or simply any place where activities are carried out to service the business.

Gemba will therefore require those involved in the process mapping exercise to actually visit the area where the production or interaction is and from there to ensure that any areas where waste is produced can be identified and the waste eliminated.  They need to visit the site and then listen and learn about the processes from those who actually do the work, and who know where any gremlins lie.

Lean manufacturing is heavily influenced by gemba in the sense that there is a belief that all problems can be visible and management cannot sit in their offices and carry out ‘desk top’ exercises without ensuring that they visit the area of production and learn from being on the ground, at the front line.

This presence at the frontline has to be real and meaningful.  This is not akin to politicians fleetingly being seen on a factory floor, telling everyone that they can ‘feel their pain’ and then floating off again.  For gemba to be useful it has to be in depth and management have to listen and learn.

Different Types Of Gemba

Although gemba as a term is fundamentally about ensuring that the factory floor or area where production/interaction is carried out is not remote from those who are involved within the management or decision making process, there are different types of gemba.

Within quality management, the gemba means the area of manufacturing, but there is also a customer’s gemba, which is where the customer is ‘at’.  So in order to meet the needs of the customer, it is important to visit the customer and see how they operate and what their needs are.

Management Gemba

Management gemba is simply about keeping management truly in line with what is happening on the shop floor.  If management sit in their own offices, away from what is happening, they cannot resolve issues quickly.  By keeping them on (or close to) the shop floor any quality issues can be resolved in an instant.

Process Mapping

Because process mapping needs to be carried out in a really methodical and objective manner, gemba plays a vital role.  It allows managers to be able to find out from shop floor workers what the issues really are.  Processes can be drawn up on paper, but without input from those who are actually involved in the exercise, it is hard to know whether all aspects of the processes have been taken into account.

Identify and agree on what the problems are.  Often management and those on the shop floor can disagree about what the main problems are.  Basic as it may seem, unless problems can be agreed, they cannot be resolved, so gemba in process mapping enables this agreement to be reached more speedily.

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