Taiichi Ohno

Introducing Gemba Keiei by Taiichi Ohno

By Jon Miller Updated on January 5th, 2018

Taiichi Ohno is one of the founders of TPS along with Shigeo Shingo and members of the Toyoda family.

Three of Mr. Ohno’s major works on the Toyota Production System and kaizen have been translated into English. They are ‘The Toyota Production System’, ‘Just In Time for Today and Tomorrow’, and ‘Workplace Management’ (Gemba Keiei in Japanese). The first is still in print and available and on the reading list of many Lean Managers.
On our last kaizen study mission to Japan I was fortunate enough to pick up a recently reissued copy of Gemba Keiei from JMAM, the publishing arm of JMA. It is an excellent book for anyone interested in kaizen, Toyota Production System, and the original Lean thinking of Mr. Ohno.

This book and Taiichi Ohno’s thoughts on kaizen and TPS have previously been capably translated by Andrew Dillon and published by Productivity Press. Unfortunately Gemba Keiei has been out of print for many years and is exceedingly difficult to obtain today. The following series of blog entries on Taiichi Ohno’s book Gemba Keiei is not an authorized translation. As I re-read this book in the original Japanese, I will summarize the nuggets of wisdom from each chapter in Mr. Ohno’s book.

A few words about the title of the book. Gemba means “actual place” or “workplace” and in Ohno’s case this is the factory. The second part “Keiei” (pronounced K-A) means ‘managing’ as in ‘managing a business’ or ‘running a business’. As opposed to the word ‘kanri’ which is used for managing or controlling people or processes. So the word ‘keiei’ means to manage or run a business or an enterprise. A person who does “keiei” is a business owner or a senior executive, while a person who does “kanri” is a manager or supervisor. It is an important distinction’ that I feel is lost in the English title “Workplace Management”. I believe that this book was written not only for the Lean Manager or Kaizen facilitator but for the business owner, the person who does “keiei” of their business.

Ohno comments in the foreword that he was asked to write about “gemba no keiei” or “running a manufacturing company” as I understand it. Mr. Ohno’s experience is based on manufacturing, but his insights on kaizen and effective management practices at the gemba transcend the factory floor. ‘Gemba Keiei’ is Ohno’s essential philosophy on how to run a business through focusing on kaizen in the workplace.

Gemba Keiei is written in a very disarming style, in the original Japanese it is almost conversational. Mr. Ohno does not use the formal or ‘polite’ language that would be the norm, but rather writes as he speaks firmly and directly, as if he is speaking to the reader as one of his students.

My goal is to summarize one chapter per week and post it in this weblog. There are 37 short chapters in this book so I hope to share as much of Ohno’s wisdom on TPS and kaizen as I am able to receive from this book in the next 37 weeks, and complete this project before the September 2005.

  1. kwilliamson

    December 15, 2004 - 1:46 pm

    What exactly doe Gemba mean? The culture of your work place?

  2. Jon Miller

    December 15, 2004 - 3:05 pm

    Gemba is a Japanese word literally meaning “actual place”. In Lean terms it is the place you add value in your workplace. For manufacutring the Gemba is the factory. For healthcare the Gemba would be the operating room or the place where you are providing care. For a cable TV company, the Gemba is the home where you are installing cable and where the service is used. For a policemen, the Gemba is the beat they walk.
    The idea of the Gemba is to focus improvement activity at the place where people do the work that adds value to the customer, based on actual observed facts.

  3. nidhi

    March 5, 2006 - 11:54 am

    Is there a link between Gemba kaizen and HRD personnel in an organisation?

  4. Jon Miller

    March 13, 2006 - 8:44 pm

    Yes Nidhi, there is. Here is the link to an article in response to your question.

  5. Ram Mohan

    March 17, 2006 - 6:24 am

    By accident, it happened that I visited this site today. I am highly impressed with the information provided. Thanx
    Ram Mohan

  6. labi banu

    August 2, 2006 - 2:23 am

    pls, how can i implement a kaizen study on a drilling tool workshop. its my MSC project. Any idea is welcome.

  7. Jon Miller

    August 2, 2006 - 12:30 pm

    How to implement kaizen in a drilling tool workshop?
    There are many ways to use kaizen to solve problems.
    What problem are you trying to solve using kaizen?

  8. George Konstantakos

    August 23, 2006 - 9:56 am

    Is this book still available for purchase? I have searched for it but cannot find it.

  9. victor

    September 9, 2006 - 4:58 pm

    Me parece muy interesante loa informacìòn cobre el sistema d eproducciòn de toyota, pero tengo una pregunta ¿Como podria hacer la interacciòn entre un proyecto de SIX SIGMA y gemba, o un msd?

  10. Manuel Fernandez

    September 13, 2006 - 3:07 pm

    Ola Victor,
    Sobre su pregunta la integración entre Lean y Six Sigma provee mejoras dramáticas en relación a calidad, costos y tiempos focalizándose en el desempeño de los procesos.
    Six Sigma
    Reduce la variación y mejora el rendimiento a través de la solución de problemas usando herramientas estadísticas
    Elimina los defectos sin embargo no puede direccionar el cómo se optimiza el flujo de procesos.
    Aplica directamente sus herramientas y transformaciones en el Gemba (donde se crea el valor) mejorando el flujo
    El foco de Lean es mejorar la calidad. los costos y los tiempos a través de la eliminación de desperdicios o mudas, esto asegura que cada cambio se sustentable en el tiempo.
    Estos dos métodos se complementan uno al otro realizando mejoras de gran éxito al usarlos simultáneamente.
    Manuel Fernandez, Gemba Chile S.A.

  11. tetsu sugiura

    November 16, 2006 - 7:04 pm

    Dear Jon,
    It is correct how you explain “genba” meaning.
    “genba” is for Japanese the place or scene things happend, for example the scene of murder.
    “genba” also is parts of San Gen Syugi (Three Actual Principal) which is structured genba, genbustu and genjistu (actual place, actual thing and actual phenomenon) and is very popular in Japan.
    p.s. I like CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) on T.V. I think you can handle “genba” much better than Japanese.

  12. Anonymous

    December 27, 2006 - 10:40 pm

    I am confusing about the word “gemba”. I think the word “genba” is for “actual place”. Am I right?

  13. Jon Miller

    December 28, 2006 - 7:59 am

    Yes. “Gemba” is the same as “genba” and it does mean “actual place” and in common use “factory floor” or “workplace”.

  14. Yingming Zhang

    December 28, 2006 - 6:02 pm

    Dear Jon,
    I am a fresman, in China, for Kaizen and Lean Manufacturing. At first step, I am reading your ”大野耐一の現場経営について”。 Would you like to give me some suggestions? Many thanks.

  15. Jon Miller

    December 29, 2006 - 4:07 pm

    Hi Yingming.
    If you are looking for good reading materials in Chinese, I think most of the classics by Yasuhiro Monden, Taiichi Ohno, and Shigeo Shingo have been translated and are in print.
    If you can find a copy of Jeffrey Liker’s “The Toyota Way” that is also very good.
    There are also many good articles within the Lean.org site if you sign up and create an account.
    Best of luck.

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