Gemba Kaizen

Gemba Kaizen - toolshero

This article explains the concept of Gemba Kaizen. After reading you will understand this Japanese company philosophy and the underlying factors for successful quality management.

What is Gemba Kaizen?

Gemba Kaizen is Japanese for continuous improvement and is about the approach to arrive at productivity improvement within an organization. It is the Japanese company philosophy which aims at the continuous improvement of employment, production and efficiency. Kaizen is often combined with Gemba, the Japanese technique to optimize the workplace.

The origins of Gemba Kaizen

Gemba Kaizen originates from the application of the work of various experts such as Masaaki Imai, Frederick Taylor, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Walter Shewhart.

In addition, its origins lie in a partnership programme between the United States Department of War and established industries after World War II. Gemba Kaizen is focused on the continuous improvement of quality techniques. By increasing quality, costs can be reduced. But this Japanese business philosophy has wider applications.

Kaizen Institute

As we mentioned, Kaizen means ‘improvement’. However, the concept goes beyond improvement on the shop floor. It means continuous improvement of your personal life, social life, and professional life. When Kaizen is applied in workplaces, it means improvement that involves every one.

Over 30 years ago, Masaaki Imai wrote the groundbreaking book ‘Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success’. This book introduced the concept of Kaizen to the Western world where it was adopted. Today Kaizen is recognised all over the world as an important pillar of the long-term strategy of an organisation. Since the introduction of this term, various companies that use Kaizen have achieved superior results.

The foundation for Kaizen was born. Soon the Kaizen Institute (KI) developed. Right now the KI is the longest-operating consultancy focused on the implementation of Kaizen and Lean. All over the world, the company helps organisations achieve peak performance by using Kaizen strategies. KI was founded by Masaaki Imai in 1985, one of the original pioneers who introduced Kaizen, Lean, and the Japanese Manufacturing Strategies to the West.

Gemba Walk

The Gemba Walk is a popular method in Lean Manufacturing. The point of Gemba is that issues in various business process are often easily visible, but are hardly ever noticed. That’s why it’s important for managers to go to the workplace in person and assess the condition of the business process. This is called the Gemba Walk. During a Gemba Walk, the manager must observe, ask questions, and show respect. It’s expected of the managers, leaders, and supervisors that they can easily observe and understand the business processes. As part of the Kaizen methodology, there’s also additional focus on communication, transparency and trust between different levels of employees and management. For this reason, a Gemba Walk is not suitable for highlighting employee inadequacies or mistakes or for enforcing policies. This would mean management runs the risk that employees throw up barriers against leadership or completely ignore any type of feedback whatsoever.

Principles and objectives of Gemba Kaizen

In order to realise improvements, the Japanese business philosophy sets a number of objectives that can apply to any organisation.

Total Quality Management (TQM)

Total Quality Management (TQM) is all about reducing and eliminating waste, also called “Muda’s” (activities that do not add value but lead to costs being incurred.

Just In Time (JIT)

With such deliveries organization can economize on stock-carrying costs. Read more about Just In Time (JIT).

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) is all about standardization of production because of which complicated and expensive processes can be avoided.

Zero Defects (ZD)

Zero Defects (ZD): Optimization of quality because of which cost savings can be realized. The focus of attention is on preventing errors and on adapting the quality to the requirements of the customer.

Specific objectives of Gemba Kaizen

Gemba Kaizen is a popular method for several reasons. First of all, any business benefits greatly from conducting Gemba Walks and related activities in order to implement continuous improvement. The very effective way to apply incremental improvements leads to elimination of waste, allowing companies to remain successful. A few specific objectives are listed below.

Identifying opportunities for improvement

The first advantage of Gemba Kaizen is the finding and gathering of good ideas on how business processes can be improved. As is the case for any strategy, it’s possible to find both large and small opportunities for improvement. They all contribute to making the organisation successful. The main reason for a Gemba Walk is finding opportunities for improvement.

Measuring changes

After an improvement has been identified and a change has been made, it’s important that progress is measured. That’s how the manager knows if the changes have had the desired result. A Gemba Walk is a great way to see if the changes do what they’re supposed to in practice and to conduct necessary measurements. It’s also possible that other people on the factory floor take these measurements, but first-hand information tends to be the most accurate.

Improve factory floor safety

Identifying areas of improvements is the main goal of Gemba Kiazen, but the method can also help to improve workplace safety. Each Gemba Walk is an opportunity to spot any potential dangers. It’s important that these are addressed immediately. Safety issues make up a large portion of the ‘waste’ in any manufacturing facility, so when safety can be improved, this helps to make continuous improvement possible.

Gather and manage new ideas

Whether the Gemba Walk is conducted to improve safety, implement changes, or measure specific things, the manager in question can always keep an eye out for new ideas. While a Gemba Walk is being conducted, employees can go up to the manager and speak to him about their ideas or any business process inefficiencies they have identified. All these ideas can lead to smoother running as a whole. This type of continuous improvement is at the core of Gemba Kaizen.

Gemba Kaizen and the workplace

This quality management method is a daily activity that’s part of the company philosophy. The goal goes beyond just improvements. It’s also aimed at improving workplaces, such as office spaces and factory floors. A good atmosphere and pleasant (work) environment makes people work more effectively and efficiently.

Respect

This method is not always applied in the right way, which sometimes results in dismissals. In Japanese this process is called “Kaiaku” (change for the worse). Dismissal is absolutely not an objective of Gemba Kaizen. On the contrary, this continuous improvement method should be carried out with respect for the people on the shop floor. The employees are especially the driving force behind the continuous improvements within an organization. Hierarchy is not important in this. In Gemba Kaizen, employees from all levels of the organization are involved. If necessary, even external stakeholders could be involved in this philosophy.

Gemba Kaizen advantages

It’s important to understand the advantages entailed implementingGemba Kaizen in the workplace. Read the following advantages of Gemba Kaizen, and how these suit different work environments.

Mechanism for motivation

Applying Gemba Kaizen as a method for improvement isn’t just beneficial for the company as a whole. It’s also beneficial for individual employees, customers, and of course the financial performance of the overall company. This management method can be applied to almost any type of business. Kaizen recognises and rewards employee efforts. This makes them feel valued in the organisation.

Improved teamwork

One of the most important advantages of Gemba Kaizen is the improved teamwork that occurs when the concept is applied properly. Kaizen is a tool for quality improvement that’s driven by collaboration. It’s not just useful for a select portion of the business, but for everyone involved with the company process. As Kaizen teams jointly solve problems, they develop a bond an team spirit. Employees will work with a fresh, unbiased view of things and without tensions.

Gemba Kaizen also helps to build cross-functional collaborations. As trained employees from different company divisions implement Kaizen, they can also hone and train their skills. Usually the best improvement opportunities can be found where one process transitions into another. Through cross-functional collaborations, employees with different backgrounds can learn from each other and address problems together.

Improved leadership skills

Every organisation has leaders. As does every Kaizen team. The team leader is responsible for guiding and organising the Kaizen team and coordinating the implementation of continuous improvement opportunities. The Kaizen team leader will ensure that everyone successfully carries out their role. Nevertheless, the leader doesn’t need to have a management role to qualify as team leader. This is another benefit of Gemba Kaizen: it offers employees without leadership skills a chance to take on leadership roles and learn them.

Improved efficiency

Another major advantage of Kaizen is improved efficiency and higher service quality. Kaizen helps companies to implement new process improvements, increase efficiency, and optimise time management. Toyota has been using Kaizen in their manufacturing process for years. First, they use muscle-memory training to train their employees in car assembly. Muscle-memory training helps them achieve more accurate results. That’s why their employees work so cleanly and precisely.

It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Is Gemba Kaizen applicable in today’s modern businesses? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for good quality management?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Imai, M. (2012). Gemba Kaizen: A Common sense Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy. McGraw-Hill.
  2. Imai, M. (1997). Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management. McGraw-Hill.
  3. Manuel F. Suárez-Barraza, Juan Ramis-Pujol, Mariana Estrada-Robles, (2012). Applying Gemba-Kaizen in a multinational food company: a process innovation framework. International Journal of Quality and Service Sciences, Vol. 4 Iss: 1, pp.27 – 50.

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