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Training Transformations

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gemba

Ryan E. Day's picture
Submitted by: Ryan E. Day
12/01/2015

I wonder if Taiichi Ohno realized his middle name was to become Gemba? Well, figuratively, anyway. Taiichi “The Place” Ohno. It has a nice martial arts kind of ring to it.

Gemba is a Japanese word which broadly translates, in English, to “the place” or “the real place.” Ohno was instrumental in developing the gemba walk at Toyota back in the day. In many business sectors today, gemba is accepted to mean the production floor or “where value is created.” Sometimes I wonder if something was lost in translation.

This morning it struck me that if we use gemba to mean the place where value is created—a fantastic working definition—then it becomes a kind of “where’s Waldo” thing. Maybe more like where’s Waldo meets value chain. Even in the manufacturing sector, there are multiple areas and departments where value is created. Or left on the table. Accounting and logistics play just as important a role in creating value as the shop floor does. A body could get lost on the way to the gemba if not careful.

My personal conclusion is that in addition to knowing how to conduct an effective gemba walk, one must keep an open mind as far as what and where the gemba actually is.