- Genchi Genbutsu is a lean principle that advocates visiting a site where a problem has occurred to better understand it and devise a solution.
- It can be helpful to think of Genchi Genbutsu as the problem-solving principle of TPS. Problems that occur on the factory floor need to be understood and solved on the factory floor. This necessitates that managers spend most of their time there.
- Both Genchi Genbutsu and the Gemba walk promote continuous improvement at the site where work is performed. However, the former is used to solve a specific problem while the latter focuses on general improvement opportunities.
Understanding Genchi Genbutsu
Genchi Genbutsu is a lean principle that advocates visiting a site where a problem has occurred to better understand it and then devise a solution.
Genchi Genbutsu is a Japanese term that loosely means “go and see for yourself” and is one of the 13 principles of the Toyota Production System (TPS).
As the story goes, TPS founder Taiichi Ohno was known to take new recruits into the factory and draw a circle on the floor. Recruits were then told to stand in the circle, observe processes, and note what they saw. Ohno would return periodically to check on the recruits who were required to continue standing in the circle until they were deemed sufficiently observant.
In essence, Ohno wanted Toyota employees to adopt the mindset that the only way to understand what happened in the factory was to be there and observe it first-hand. This first-hand observation was where waste could be observed and value-adding solutions devised.
Thus, it can be useful to think of Genchi Genbutsu as the problem-solving principle of TPS. Problems that occur on the factory floor need to be understood and solved on the factory floor. By extension, the approach requires that managers be embedded in the process and spend most of their time out of the office.
How is Genchi Genbutsu practiced?
Genchi Genbutsu is a continuous improvement strategy but also a philosophy that each employee must embody. This process starts with an individual identifying the source of the problem and then immersing themselves in the solution.
There are various ways to do this:
- Hands-on experience – often, the person most equipped to devise a solution is the one who experiences the process first-hand and understands how value and waste are created.
- Third-party observation – on occasion, however, an outside perspective can be useful. These staff can appreciate nuances or inconsistencies that an employee accustomed to the process may overlook.
- Surveys and interviews – these can be used by companies to learn more about the people doing the work. The qualitative data that results can then identify any biases or gaps in understanding.
- Reports – the Genchi Genbutsu strategy still considers historical data and past reports to be useful. However, they should always be combined with a more immersive activity to reconcile what is recorded on paper with what is actually happening on the factory floor.
Genchi Genbutsu vs. the Gemba walk
Both Genchi Genbutsu and the Gemba walk promote continuous improvement at the site where work is performed. However, it is important not to confuse the two terms.
Genchi Genbutsu is a method where a problem is investigated in person and a solution is devised based on that investigation. Operators who work in the area where the problem occurs are asked questions to identify its root cause.
Conversely, in a Gemba walk, staff from upper management visit the factory floor to search for general improvement opportunities. They observe tasks or processes in each area and liaise with workers without necessarily looking to solve a specific problem.
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