Tips for Lean Managers

Genchi Gembutsu

By Jon Miller Published on January 11th, 2005

As we being a new year, there have been humbling reminders of one of the fundamentals of the Toyota way, namely Genchi Gembutsu. In short this means “go to the actual scene (genchi) and confirm the actual happenings or things (gembutsu).
Secretary of State Colin Powell returns from the ruins of the tsunami and says he has never seen such devastation, pledging further assistance. The pledge of aid has increased more than 10 fold from the initial White House statement after December 26th. Things look a lot different from ground zero. As we say in kaizen “go to Gemba” or the actual place, to see the facts and make decisions based on those facts.
When we visit Toyota City and pass by Toyota’s headquarters on our Japan Kaikaku Experience study missions, we have to point out the headquarters to everyone on the bus. It is easily missed. This 3-story high building built in the 1960s is not impressive. Toyota certainly has the money to build a giant modern headquarters. More than one Toyota supplier indeed does. This humble old building has suited Toyota for 40 years.
This small, old, outdated building houses Toyota’s top executives. Yet only recentlly have they begun planning to rebuild it, citing the need for refurbish the aging building and earthquake-proofing.
This headquarters building has suited the world’s #2 automaker for so many years because Toyota’s executives have been successfully living the Genchi Gembutsu principle. They know that their offices do not make them money, the factories do. Toyota factoris are far more impressive facilities than their headquarters. How many of us can say the same?
I had the opportunity to travel with one of our consultants on a training assignment to a new client. It was a good reminder for me of what needs consultants in the field have. Was the pre-training information sufficient? Do we have clear standards for our trainers to follow? Have our consultants and trainer all been adequately cross-trained? These answers can be found only at the consultant’s Gemba. It was Genchi Gembutsu, going to where we add value and seeing what actually happens, that made these issues clear to me.
Even as we Lean practitioners incorporate technology into Lean training such as new software for mapping Value Streams or enhanced online presentation capabilities, we are becoming perhaps too focused on the trappings of training and doing kaizen rather than engaging the people on the Gemba and their creativity.
It is more difficult for us non-factory folk who do not have a ‘Genchi’ nearby, or who must travel hundreds of miles to get to their Gemba. I am speaking of ‘knowledge workers’ such as consultants or traveling salesmen. Technology can enable us to do our jobs effectively over a distance but we must not forget that reports are not fact, merely post-mortem and Genchi Gembutsu is the action is.

  1. Beatriz Genchi

    April 21, 2006 - 4:12 pm

    Soy argentina y busco el origen de mi apellido, agrdezco cualquier info,desde ya gracias

  2. Edson Oda

    April 28, 2006 - 9:03 am

    Holla Beatriz,
    A palavra “Genchi” utilizado no Sistema Toyota de Produção ou também conhecido como Lean Manufacturing refere-se ao local onde os fatos acontecem. O ideograma “gen” significa atual, tempo presente, no momento e o “chi” significa terra, área, local. Juntas significam o local real ou também ao próprio local de trabalho. Esperamos que estas informacoes possam ajudá-la.
    Muchas gracias,
    Hello Beatriz,
    The word “Genchi” which is very commonly used for those who work with the Toyota Production System also known as Lean Manufacturing refers to the place where the things really happen. In other words, the real place. The ideogram “gen” means current, present, at the moment, and the ideogram “chi” means earth, area, place. Together they mean the real place or the workplace. I hope that this information helps you anyhow.
    Thank you,

  3. irving genchi adame

    April 28, 2006 - 2:12 pm

    hola soy irving genchi, soy de mexico … acabo de leer tu mensaje y nosotros tambien estamos buscando a nuestros origenes asi ke espero ke nos podamos poner en contacto de cualquier forma.adios mi correo es [email protected]

  4. Edson Oda

    May 2, 2006 - 6:07 am

    Holla Irving,
    Segundo Sr. Brad Schmidt – Gemba Research Managing Partner – não temos conhecimento de nenhuma família com o sobrenome “Genchi” no Japão.
    Muchas Gracias,
    Hello Irving,
    Based on Mr. Brad Schmidt’s information , there is no family in Japan with the “Genchi” family name.
    Thank you,

  5. Joe Bondin

    November 27, 2007 - 9:37 pm

    Hi, Just to inform you of the latest. The new HQ in Toyota City is behind the original 3 story historical building. It is approximately 8 stories high and houses Senior Management and HR personnel. Furthermore Midland Square built in 2006 in Downtown Nagoya is 47 floors and houses Toyota employees between the 22nd and 40th floors. I hope this helps

  6. Jeff Brown

    April 11, 2008 - 6:47 am

    Im very curious about the confusion around the internet on the use of GeMba vs. GeNba or GeMbutsu vs. GeNbutsu
    My understanding from the Senior Japanese Quality Engineers (with 30-40 years experience who had known Taiichi Ohno) that the correct term is GeN-ba). They continue to say that Genba originates from the 5 Gen’s (Gen-Ba, Gen-Butsu, Gen-Jitsu, Gen-Ri and Gen-Soku). Im also told it’s proper to say “Sagyoo Genba” which means “Worksite”.
    Seeing you have a business revolving around “Gemba” Im wondering what is the correct spelling?

  7. Jon Miller

    April 11, 2008 - 10:46 am

    This is a question of English spelling and pronunciation, not one of correctness of the concept. Both “gemba” and “genba” as well as “gembutsu” and “genbutsu” are in use. In the English language we do not have “nb” as a sound since the “b” makes the “n” into a “m” sound. This is actually true in the vast majority of languges, due to the shape of our mouths and how we speak.
    In Japanese “gen” means “actual” while “ba” means “place” and “butsu” means “object” or “thing”. There is a letter “ge” and a letter “n” in the Japanese language. There is no letter “m” as a syllable ender (there are ma, mi, mu, me, mo letters in the alphabet). So to the mind of a Japanese speaker, “gen” is the correct spelling even though a linguist would say that they pronounce it “gem” when it is followed by a “b” sound.
    Most English usage is “gemba” and many Japanese managers, engineers, etc. working in English speaking countries will say “genba”. Either is OK really.
    We have shifted from “gembutsu” to “genbutsu” with an “n” thanks to the fact that the press in their coverage of Toyota in recent years has picked up on “genchi genbutsu”.
    Based on that, we feel that “gemba” and “genbutsu” are the prevailing standards.

  8. Erick Baranda Genchi

    May 12, 2008 - 5:00 pm

    Hola a todos de igual manera estoy buscando el significado y origen del apellido Genchi, y con todo respeto no creo que tenga algo que ver con japoneses o toyota, pero bueno si conocen algun otro significado se los agradezco, saludos!

  9. Jon Miller

    May 12, 2008 - 8:28 pm

    Hola senor Genchi!
    En japonés “genchi” significa “lugar real”. En Toyota es parte de la práctica de genchi genbutsu – para ir al lugar para obtener datos, en lugar de adivinar.
    In Japanese “genchi” means “real place” or “actual place”. At Toyota it is part of the practice of genchi genbutsu – to go to the actual place to get the facts , rather than guess.

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