Go to the Gemba!

By Chuck Gault, Max Coating President

Every manager in the manufacturing industry has been through this scenario. You’re sitting at your desk. A problem arises so you call in the plant manager. You both talk for 15 to 20 minutes and go back and forth trying to figure out what you “think” happened, what you “think” would be the right solution and what you “think” you could put in place to resolve the problem.

I hate to tell you, but this is a terrible recipe for problem-solving.  Problem-solving can’t be done sitting at a desk. You have to go to the Gemba, the Japanese term for “the real place.” It’s so important to spend time where the action happens.  It will totally change your perspective.  You’ll learn things you would’ve never even considered.  It’s almost like a secret.  A secret the Japanese know but the rest of the world hasn’t caught onto yet.

Some managers still believe they can do everything while sitting in their office. These are also the ones still wondering why their solutions don’t stick or resonate with employees.

If you go on a tour at Mercedes, you’ll see managers everywhere because they drive their managers to the shop floor. Why? Because that’s where the action is.  They don’t want them sitting in their cubicles crunching numbers on a spreadsheet.  They purposefully put them out there where the cars are actually being made. No meetings in an office or a conference room.  Instead they are right there on the line.

It’s a powerful problem solving technique that seems so simple on the surface, but you’d be stunned by how many people don’t follow the practice.

Always remember, as soon as an issue arises in a fast-paced manufacturing environment, you must go straight to the Gemba!


Birmingham, Alabama-based Max Coating is a leader in the metal finishing industry and provides electrocoating and powder coating services for automotive, industrial and agricultural manufacturers. Learn more at www.maxcoating.com.