Toyota Way – Principle 12

Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation (Genchi Genbutsu)

«Observe the production floor without preconceptions and with a blank mind. Repeat “why” five times to every matter».
Taiichi Ohno,
(as quoted in The Toyota Way document)

In my talks at Toyota,  all the same whether I asked in the factory, product development, sales, distribution or public relations what distinguishes the Toyota Way from other management approaches, the most common spontaneous response was “Genchi Genbutsu”.

“You cannot be sure you really understand any business problem unless you go and see it for yourself first-hand.”

It is unacceptable to take something for granted or rely on the reports of others. 

What was Fujio Cho (company president) doing? The only way that could really make him understand the state of the Toyota System was to personally go and see where and how it is applied. “Are they following the standard work procedures? Is it a level flow and is it just-in-time? Are the parts/services being delivered before they are needed, etc.?” To answer these questions, he must personally observe the flow of materials on the line He should see if the line workers are using the andon to call for help and stop the line, if necessary. “And how are team leaders and group leaders reacting?” With the decades of experience he has, he can see all this… for himself. He is a black belt of seeing and understanding the Toyota System. He knows that what he sees firsthand might not be seen in the written reports and the tables of results, which of course he would want to see, too. The tables and figures may measure results, but they do not reveal the details of the actual process that is followed on a daily basis.

Today, we mainly rely on computers to analyze and evaluate data. For example, in a Six Sigma quality improvement initiative, we collect data and analyze them by a computer application – correlations, regressions, analysis of variance. Some of the results we get are statistically significant. But do we really understand the context of what is going on or the nature of the problem?

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Literally translated, Genchi means “the actual location” and Genbutsu means “the actual materials or products”. But at Toyota, Genchi Genbutsu means “going to the place to see the actual situation for understanding”. Gemba is a term that has become more popular. It refers to the “actual place” and means almost the same as Genchi Genbutsu. The first step in any process of problem solving, product development, or evaluation of a collaborator’s achievement is thoroughly understanding the actual situation, which requires “going to the Gemba”. Toyota promotes and expects creative thinking, and innovation is a must, but they must be supported by a deep understanding of all aspects of the actual situation. This is one of the behaviors that truly distinguishes someone who was trained on the Toyota Way – they take nothing for granted and know what they are talking about, because it comes from first-hand knowledge.

It would be relatively easy for the management seeking to learn from the Toyota Way to mandate that from now on all engineers and managers have to spend half an hour observing the manufacturing area to understand the situation. But not much will be accomplished unless they had the skills to analyze and understand the actual situation. 

There is a superficial version of Genchi Genbutsu and a deeper version that requires more years of dedication by the employees to master. What the Toyota Way requires is that employees and managers have a “deep” understanding of flow processes, standardized work, etc, as well as possess the ability to critically evaluate them and analyze what is going on (which may include some data analysis). In addition, they need to know how to get to the root causes of any problems they observe and communicate this effectively to others. As Tadashi (“George”). Yamashina, President of the Toyota Technical Center, explained:

It is more than going and seeing. “What happened? What did you see? What are the issues? What are the problems?” Within the Toyota organization in North America, we are still just going and seeing. “OK, I went and saw it and now I have a feeling.” But have you really analyzed it? Do you really understand what the issues are? At the root of all of that, we try to make decisions based on factual information, not based on theory. Statistics and numbers contribute to the facts, but it is more than that. Sometimes we get accused of spending too much time doing all the analysis of that. Some will say, “Common sense will tell you. I know what the problem is.” But collecting data and analysis will tell you if your common sense is right. 

“Data is of course important in manufacturing, but I place the greatest emphasis on facts. ”

For Ohno, the big difference was that data were on the brink of the process, they were simply “indicators” of what was going on. What has to be done is verify the on-the-scene facts. Ohno’s approach was very similar to forensic scientists´ investigation at a crime scene.

Kiichiro Toyoda learned from his father the importance of getting his hands dirty and learning by doing. He insisted on all his engineers learning this, too. A famous Toyoda anecdote has become part of Toyota’s cultural heritage (as reflected in the internal document of the Toyota Way, page 8):

One day Kiichiro Toyoda was walking through the vast plant when he came upon a worker scratching his head and muttering that his grinding machine would not run. Kiichiro took one look at the man, then rolled up his sleeves and plunged his hands into the oil pan. He came up with two handfuls of sludge. Throwing the sludge on the floor, he said: “How can you expect to do your job without getting your hands dirty!”

The ActioGlobal team recommends you to read Jeff Liker’s bestseller, The Toyota Way. Following the reading, experimentation on the Gemba will provide the real learning.

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