10 Best Practices for Going to the Gemba (Part 1)


Since it’s very easy to simply go through the motions when going to the gemba, this episode contains the first of 10 best practices, tips, and tools. Make use of them and you will take your gemba game to a whole new level!

In this episode we cover the first five best practices:

  1. Stand in the circle
  2. Do the work yourself
  3. Review the standard
  4. Measure cycle times
  5. Tap your foot, say “wait,” or “waste”

The remaining five best practices can be found in Part 2 of this podcast series.

Download: 10 Best Practices for Going to the Gemba

Get a PDF summary of all ten gemba best practices and use it as a one-page reference tool the next time you visit your production floor. Take your gemba game to the next level and train others to do the same!

#1 Go to the gemba and “stand in the circle”

“Standing in the circle” is a phrase that is often associated with Taiichi Ohno, one of the architects of the Toyota Production System. Legend has it that at one point he grabbed a piece of chalk, drew a circle on the production floor, and commanded a new associate to “stand in the circle” and watch.

He walked away for hours and eventually returned to ask, “what did you see?”

Although unconventional to westerners, standing in the circle is one way to develop your powers of observation and learn to see in the gemba.

As often as you can do it, go to the production floor and observe for sustained periods of time. Investigate machines, parts, process, and talk to people. Seek to deeply understand what you see.

You can also use this concept as an interviewing or training tool. Give the person 10 minutes to write down as many problems or opportunities as they can on a piece of paper. What they write down (or don’t write down) will give you insight into how they think.

#2 Do the work yourself

There is no equivalent substitute for doing the work yourself. If you truly want to know what conditions are actually like on the production floor, get your boots on and get your hands dirty!

Do the work yourself and learn what’s easy, what’s hard, what produces variation, and what tends to break down.

Toyota has a common practice of requiring incoming managers and leaders to work entry level jobs… even for months!

They will rotate through multiple production-level jobs until they deeply understand (and respect) the gemba and the people working in it.

#3 Review the standard

If you go to the gemba and don’t review the standard, you are setting yourself up for embarrassment and wasted time.

The standard is what is supposed to be happening right now.

  • If it is not happening that way, you need to know that and understand why.
  • If it is happening that way, you will accelerate your comprehension of the process by quickly reviewing the standard.

Don’t make the mistake of forgetting to review the standard and wasting precious time.

#4 Measure cycle times in the gemba

Use a smartphone or a stopwatch and directly measure the cycle times that you can observe.

The actual cycle time can tell you a lot about the process capacity and whether it can meet scheduled or customer requirements.

You will also do well to observe multiple repetitions of the cycle to measure the amount of variation.

If the variation is significant, ask yourself “why?” and dig deeper.

Of course, you should also compare what you measure against any established standard work, hour-over-hour boards, or other available production metrics.

#5 Tap your foot, say “wait,” or “waste”

Sometimes you don’t have a stopwatch with your or it is helpful to be discreet as you observe the gemba.

In this case, you can tap your foot or say the words “wait” or “waste” to get a rough estimate of the cycle time you’re observing.

You can even count your taps (or count in your head) to approximate relative amounts of waste vs. value, or machine time vs. operator time.

Although it may sound silly, you can also speak the words “wait,” “waste,” or “value” repeatedly when training someone else to see what you’re seeing. For example, “waste, waste, waste, waste, value, waste, waste, value,” etc.

Discover best practices 6-10 in Part 2.

Learn How to Assess Your Gemba at the Lean Smarts Academy

You can stand in your gemba, but are you seeing everything there is to see? Learn how to see by educating yourself and your team using our resources in the Lean Smarts Academy.