What is Genba?
When you search for the term genba in Google, you might be surprised to get results for the term gemba. But don’t fret! They mean the same thing.
Genba is the Japanese word for “the real place.” The sound that is made when pronouncing “n” and “ba” together seems like an “m”. That’s why most native English speakers mistook the term as gemba. Because of this, we see this term used interchangeably in business literature.
In business, genba is used to denote the “place where work is done.” If you’re a surgeon, your genba is the operating room. If you’re a chef, your genba is the kitchen. The idea is that the genba is the place where the value is created and most likely, where waste is also encountered.
Knowing where your genba gives you an opportunity to immerse yourself in how the work is being done. As a leader or manager, this helps provide a better picture of why certain problems or issues happen. It also helps you better understand the data in your reports. “Going to your genba” is a means to reconcile what is written on paper to what is happening in the real world. The process of immersing in your genba is called a genba walk.
A genba walk is walking around within your genba with the purpose of understanding how work is being done. A genba walk is also a way for leaders to connect with their teams and build relationships. Taiichi Ohno started this lean technique and is part of the core practices of the Toyota Production System.
This technique similar to genchi genbutsu which means “to go and see.” Both genchi genbutsu and the genba walk highlight the importance of experiencing first hand how work is being done to will allow for better business decisions.
When doing your genba walk:
- Define your purpose – Why are you holding a genba walk? What is problem would you like to solve? What business process do you want to understand better?
- Prepare your team – Inform the team members of the observation activity. Explain that the goal is to understand the process and get their buy-in so that they are collaborative during the process.
- Focus on the process, not the people – Remember that the genba walk is a time to observe how the work is being done, regardless of who is doing it. This is not the time to critique the team’s work.
- Take note of your observations – Record your observations and findings, include photos and videos when applicable. Do not attempt to derive any conclusions or make analyses while conducting the walk, that will have to happen later.
- Share your findings and recommendations – Following the analysis, circle back with the team regarding your findings. Make sure to involve and inform the team of changes or next steps.
Genba Walks in Knowledge Work
How can you do a genba walk when the work that you do is intangible?
Using software development as an example, programmers work at their desks, that is not your genba. The value they create starts in the mind and is manifested through the applications that they build. That is something that we cannot “walk” on.
But knowing that the main goal of a genba walk is to understand how work is being done, we then need something to help visualize how that is happening in knowledge work.
Physical kanban boards can help us achieve this. Kanban boards show the value stream and the progress of the work that is being done by the team. Through a visual management tool such as this, we gain a better understanding of the problems and issues that we experience in our work. It can facilitate further discussions to understand why things happen the way they do. Teams can then create improvements and refine their process based on their findings and observations. Then, the effects of their changes will reflect on the kanban board.
The true meaning of conducting a genba walk is to be one with your process and the team that performs in it. Through this, refining processes will take your business on a journey towards success.