Lean Manufacturing

It’s Not Really “Go See”, It’s “Go Observe”

By Jon Miller Published on September 18th, 2006

The Toyota Production System principle of genchi gembutsu is often translated in English as “go see”. This rolls off the tongue a lot easier than genchi gembutsu, but it doesn’t quite capture the essence. The word “genchi” means “actual place” just as “gemba” does, though “genchi” is not used to mean “factory” or “workplace” like gemba is. The word “gembutsu” simply means “actual item / object / product / thing”. So “go there and see it for yourself” would not be a bad translation, though wordy.
There is a clear difference between the words look, see and observe in the English language. Looking is opening your eyes and letting the light from you environment ente. Seeing requires that you are conscious and that the light is processed in your brain to become an image. Observing is directing your conscious attention on a phenomena in an attempt to somehow frame what you are seeing within your cognitive context.
“Go see” is certainly better than “Go look” but “Go observe” is a more accurate description of the spirit of genchi gembutsu. Whenever you are making improvements you must go to the actual place and observe what is really happening to understand the phenomena so that you can categorize and collect meaningful data as a first step to taking action.
When observing a process it is a good idea to try to put what you are observing into a frame, such as:
1) What is value added and what is an example of the 7 types of waste?
2) Eliminate, Combine, Reduce, Simplify?
3) Dirty, Difficult or Dangerous?
4) Why here? Why now?
In other words don’t be a neutral observer. Have an agenda. Go look for something in particular, wait until you see it and observe further to understand. Davelop a theory that you can try to disprove (null hypothesis) according to the scientific method.
Bad decisions are made when people become ideological or stubborn or too single-minded for genchi gembutsu. We could all benefit a lot from a bit of “go observe” from time to time. That’s why we encourage everyone to spend more time on your gemba.

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