What does Gemba Kaizen mean?
Gemba is a Japanese word meaning "workplace" or "real place" where actions occur. As a problem-solving methodology, the main idea of Gemba Kaizen is to establish a low-cost approach to managing the workplace (Imai, 1997).
Gemba Kaizen activities add value to outcomes, which is a significant aspect of improvement activities. Gemba enables teams and organizations to discover improvement opportunities in the workplace. For successful Gemba practices, managers and all team members should get involved in areas where problems and improvement opportunities occur.
Managers and supervisors play a crucial role in Gemba management: establishing and improving standards, improving quality and decreasing cost.
Imai (1997) identifies five rules of Gemba management:
- Go to Gemba when any problems are detected,
- Check and analyze "gembutsu",
- Take measures on the problem discovered,
- Identify and eliminate the root cause(s), and
- Standardize the actions taken for preventing the possible next issues.
"Gembutsu" refers to a term used for tangible material, parts, machines, returned goods, and other objects found in Gemba.
For explaining the main idea behind Gemba, Imai (1997: 30) gives a brief example: "If a reject is produced, for example, simply holding it in your hands, touching it, feeling it, closely examining it, and looking at the production method will probably reveal the cause."
The Gemba Kaizen process includes the following steps (Imai, 1997: 59):
- Selecting the theme
- Understanding the current status and setting objectives
- Analyzing the data collected to identify root causes
- Establishing countermeasures based on the data analysis
- Implementing countermeasures
- Confirming the effects of countermeasures
- Establishing or revising the standards to prevent recurrence
- Reviewing the above processes and working on the next steps.
According to Imai (1997), Kaizen starts with recognizing problems and issues. Discovering problems means that teams are already halfway to success. When a problem is discovered in Gemba, if Gemba is investigated carefully by looking at gembutsu, root causes can be diagnosed, and effective solutions can be applied.
In Gemba Kaizen, one of the most useful tools to discover the root causes is the “5 Whys”. Gemba happens to be akin to root cause analysis and when a problem occurs you must go to Muda (waste), Mura (uneveness), or Muri (overburden or unreasonable). After these aspects are checked, you will then go on with analyzing the gembutsu. This naturally leads you to ask "Why?" five times which happen to be synonymous with root cause analysis. This shows that Gemba is simply a philosophical approach to why things like root cause analysis must be culturally adopted by a society rather than being imposed as a process.
Imai (1997) indicates that people generally jump directly to the solution alternatives. Instead, root causes should be appropriately determined before starting the “solution” step. It should be noted that whenever a problem has been solved, the SDCA process should be taken as the next step in Gemba Kaizen. Standardization assures the continuity of the effects of Kaizen (Imai, 1997: 33).
An example of the "5 Whys":
Question: Why are you throwing sawdust on the floor?
Answer: Because the floor is slippery and unsafe.
Question: Why is it slippery and unsafe?
Answer: Because there is oil on it.
Question: Why is there oil on it?
Answer: Because the machine is dripping.
Question: Why is it dripping?
Answer: Because oil is leaking from the oil coupling.
Question: Why is it leaking?
Answer: Because the rubber lining inside the coupling is worn out.