My colleague, Ken, reminded me of a central Lean concept late this afternoon. Where? Where, physically, do we do Lean? Where, physically, do we see the waste we want to eliminate? Where, physically, do we make decisions that will improve my company?
This Japanese word is far less familiar than kanban or kaizen. Yet it is every bit as crucial to seeing. Gemba, most simply, means "workplace". The physical place where value is added to the product. The place where a customer would say "Yes, that is my product. I can see it. Make it well, folks, and get it to me quickly!"
The vast majority of the time it is not in my office. It is not in a meeting room. It is in the dust of a construction site. It is at the desk of a designer. It is next to the purchasing clerk buying windows.
When I am in Gemba, I can see. The rest of the time, I can only speculate. And, as Phil Crosby said, "all quality problems are caused by hunches by management." Being in gemba knocks down hunches.