In High-Performance Organizations, leaders share their working time together with the people (employees, teams) at the place where they create value for other people (customers). That place, which is located in different places in the organizational value network, is the Gemba.
Lean Management, as a philosophy that defines the mindset, action and learning model of High-Performance Organizations, comprises four fundamental and inseparable concepts:
- Gemba, the place where value is created for our customers.
- Build-Measure-Learn: as an ongoing loop of experimentation and learning.
- Kaizen (continuous improvement), Kaikaku (revolutionary change) and Kakushin (disruptive innovation).
- Muda, an activity that does not provide any added value for customers.
What is the Gemba?
Toyota uses the word Gemba to refer to «the actual place where things happen». In operational terms, Gemba refers to the environment (plant, shop, web) where the value of the products, solutions or services are created. Besides, our customers pay for that and trust us to create and/or deliver value.
This is not restricted to the production plant or the physical store, it involves all those human activities and networks that produce and add value to the product – production, distribution, logistics, communications and sales.
But Gemba goes beyond a mere concept, it is a working philosophy within the company. It is a model that guides all the teams in the organization in their way of acting and it can be used for identifying problems and innovating for solutions.
For the Gemba to be effective,
The whole organization must be convinced that limiting, analyzing and improving the small and big problems arising is the best way to improve the company’s results – in terms of cost, quality and service.
To develop the Gemba model in detail, High-Performance Organizations rely on two other concepts, which practiced jointly, are foolproof for innovation:
- Genchi Genbutsu: means “Go and see for yourself”. Or in other words, you must go to the Gemba and analyze facts, data, and hearts all at once. It will help you understand what your customers and employees are concerned about as well as to be able to jointly design the best solutions.
- Build-Measure-Learn: it´s the cycle of Lean Startup (create, analyze results and learn). Every work team must follow it in its innovation process to connect customer problems/needs with possible solutions, define actions, implement them. They have to review their results to learn very quickly and be increasingly effective in delivering to the customers what they need, when and how they need it.
The Gemba Walk aims at staying with a working team at the Gemba to detect disruptive innovations such as Mudas (activities for which our clients are not willing to pay us) and to be able to initiate workshops of ideation and collective creation.
Likewise, the Gemba Walks do not serve only for that collective creation, but also for teaching our teams to exponentially think and create, to think and structure the systemic mentality of innovation. And, above all, for turning each working team into an innovation team.
There is a very close relationship between Gemba and accelerated learning that facilitates exponential innovation.
A High-Performance Organization is a company that is not afraid of failure and constant change as a way to continuously offer the differential innovation that satisfies their customers.
Just like Thomas A. Edison said, «I haven’t failed, I’ve found the 999 ways a light bulb is NOT made». This is how things work in a Lean and Agile organization.
Changes are implemented as a way of life and when they do not work, the organization must be agile enough to change their way of getting things done, at infinite speed, until the best solution is found – every day.
To be mistaken is not considered a failure, but rather a discovery of a way that does not work and is therefore discarded as a solution on a quest for a better way.
As a consequence, instead of spending time and resources on designing closed innovation plans, we would better use time and resources experimenting with small changes. It´s their results (facts, data and hearts) at the Gemba that will guide us on how to get our clients’ smile.
Bottom line: the only way to innovate effectively is to prove with data and facts what works and what does not. And furthermore, in order to win in today’s world, we must do it at great speed and with great agility to apply each new learning. In our instantaneous and exponential world, every second counts. The Gemba is our ally.