Taiichi Ohno, creator of the Toyota Production System is credited, perhaps of dubious authenticity, with taking new graduates to the shopfloor and drawing a chalk circle on the floor. The graduate would be told to stand in the circle and to observe and note down what he saw. When Ohno returned he would check; if the graduate had not seen enough he would be asked to keep observing. Ohno was trying to imprint upon his future engineers that the only way to truly understand what happens on the shopfloor was to go there. It was here that value was added and here that waste could be observed.
Genchi Genbutsu is therefore a key approach in problem solving. If the problem exists on the shopfloor then it needs to be understood and solved at the shopfloor.
Genchi Genbutsu is also called the Gemba attitude. Gemba is the Japanese term for “the place” in this case ‘the place where it actually happens’. Since real value is created at the shopfloor in manufacturing, this is where management need to spend their time.
It is sometimes referred to as “Getcha boots on” (and go out and see what is happening) due to its similar cadence and meaning. It has been compared to Peters and Waterman’s idea of “Management By Wandering Around“. This concept quickly became so universal that new managers instinctively knew that they had to “walk around” to achieve high effectiveness levels. Whilst these ideas, with their associated lists of how-tos, are probably good ideas they may miss the essential nature of Genchi Genbutsu which is less to ‘visit’ and more to ‘know’ by being there. Toyota has high levels of management presence on the production line whose role it is to ‘know’ and to constantly improve.
“Gemba attitude” reflects the idea that whatever reports and measures and ideas are transmitted to management they are only an abstraction of what is actually going on in the gemba to create value. Metrics and reports will reflect the attitudes of the management questioner and the workplace responder as well as how the responder views the questioner. It also increases the chance that actual issues and unplanned events will be observed first hand and can be managed immediately; this includes issues that are not apparent to the gemba workforce.