Genba (現場?, also romanized as Gemba) is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.” Japanese detectives call the crime scene gemba, and Japanese TV reporters may refer to themselves as reporting from genba. In business, genba refers to the place where value is created; in manufacturing the genba is the factory floor. It can be any “site” such as a construction site, sales floor or where the service provider interacts directly with the customer.
In Lean Manufacturing, the idea of genba is that the problems are visible, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to the genba. The genba walk, much like Management By Walking Around (MBWA), is an activity that takes management to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities to practice genba kaizen, or practical shop floor improvement.
In quality management, Genba means the manufacturing floor and the idea is that if a problem occurs, the engineers must go there to understand the full impact of the problem, gathering data from all sources. Unlike focus groups and surveys, Genba visits are not scripted or bound by what one wants to ask.
The practice of regularly going to the Lean workplace to see the actual practices is known as gemba walking. Executives should expect to spend 45 to 60 minutes every week or two gemba walking with a Lean teacher, or Sensei, for six months to a year. Thereafter, they should regularly gemba walk on their own. Gemba walks are crucial to maintaining the disciplined adherence to Lean process designs, part of the Lean support role permeating all leadership positions. Gemba walks form the connective tissue that maintains the gains from Lean and the muscle that drives further improvement.
Executives should read about Lean tools and principles, and attend a Lean event annually. But the principal Lean education for executives comes via structured gemba walking with a sensei-coach.