“Data is of course important in manufacturing, but I place the greatest emphasis on facts.” – Taiichi Ohno
If you’ve read this blog – or really any other lean related publication – you’ve likely heard the phrase genchi genbutsu used many times.
Jon Miller – who is fluent in Japanese – recently corrected me and told me that genchi genbutsu literally means “actual place, actual thing.” The most popular definition seems to be that genchi genbutsu means to go and see with your own eyes at the place the work is done.
Definitions aside, I wonder how many people really understand what this lean philosophy truly means. Most seem to think it means to visit the gemba, or the place the work is done, when something needs addressed.
And I suppose it does. But it’s much more than this.
Meet Mr. Yuji Yokoya
In chapter 12 of Jeffrey Liker’s must read book The Toyota Way we meet Yuji Yokoya who was the chief engineer for the 2004 Toyota Sienna redesign.
Since Mr. Yokoya had never worked on a vehicle destined for the North American and parts of the South American market he asked his superiors if he could go to gemba to learn.
They approved… and boy did he ever go!
You see, Mr. Yokoya set off to drive a Sienna in all 50 American states as well as all 13 provinces in Canada. He also spent some time on the streets of Mexico.
What did he learn?
During his travels Mr. Yokoya learned many things, including:
- The roads in Canada are very different, especially the high crowns in the middle of the road, probably meant to deal with the massive amounts of snow they get.
- He learned that the winds in Mississippi are vicious and that, if not properly designed, the Sienna would be extremely unstable.
- He also learned a valuable lesson about cup holders. Yes, cup holders. You see, in Japan people rarely eat or drink in their vehicles… but in the West Mr. Yokoya learned that eating and drinking in the car are very common. So, the 2004 Sienna would soon come equipped with 14 cup holders as well as a little tray to place your Big Mac and fries.
Surveys and Focus Groups?
Some skeptics will say Mr. Yokoya could have learned some of this by sending out surveys and having focus groups share information.
Me, I am not so sure. I mean Mr. Yokoya felt the roads, he felt the wind, and he saw with his own eyes how we like to cram our faces with food while talking on the cell phone and drinking our coffee.
Now that’s priceless (and a little scary).
What do you think?
What does Genchi Genbutsu mean to you? Do you see it practiced where you work?