Kaizen is a Japanese term for improvement, and is commonly uses as the basis for a methodology that is focused on continuous improvement for businesses. It is most commonly used in warehouse and manufacturing facilities where the goals of eliminating waste and improving efficiency are very important.
While Kaizen as a whole is a very high level concept, there are many strategies that are used under the Kaizen ‘umbrella’ that can get quite detailed. When understood properly, these specific areas within Kaizen can help you to make dramatic improvements throughout your facility.
The “Three ‘G’ Principles” within Kaizen are excellent examples of this. These principals are gemba, gembutsu and genjitsu. Before getting into the specifics of what each one means and how your facility can use it, let’s start by saying that they work together to encourage managers and other decision makers to get to the location of the actual products and learn the facts on the ground.
When done properly, this will help ensure they have the needed information to make smart decisions for the facility. Over time, this can help to facilitate improvements in virtually every aspect of the company.
Gemba – The Shop Floor
Gemba is a term that is often used to describe ‘where the action occurs’ or in the case of most manufacturing facilities, the shop floor. You may have heard the term gemba walk, which simply means to get out of your office and go out to the shop floor where the actual work is performed.
The idea behind gemba walks, and gemba in general, is to end the trend of managers sitting in their offices and making decisions based exclusively on reports or second hand information. While this type of information is critical, it is no substitute for actually seeing how things are running and interacting with the front line employees.
Gembutsu – The Actual Product
In addition to looking just at the area where the work is done in the facility, management teams should also be taking a close look at the actual product. Reviewing the product when it is finished is absolutely critical as it will allow you to see what the actual end goal is of the entire manufacturing process.
In addition to looking at finished products, however, you will also want to make sure you’re looking at the actual product at each step of the manufacturing process. This can help give you a better understanding of what is occurring at each step of its creation.
Seeing where the value is added throughout the manufacturing process can help you to streamline the creation by eliminating costly or time consuming steps that don’t add significant value to the customers. This is critical because anything that expends the facility’s time or other resources without adding value in the eyes of the customer is a significant form of waste.
It is very difficult to identify this type of waste simply by looking at reports or even talking to customers in many cases. To really be able to track the value stream of a product, you need to get some hands on experience with that product at every phase of manufacturing. You need gembutsu.
Genjitsu – The Facts
The last of the 3 ‘G’ principles is genjitsu, which means ‘the facts.’ In this context it means that managers need to work hard to find the facts of any given situation. Many people mistake this for meaning they need to find out who or what to blame for problems, but that is not the case.
Making an effort to determine the facts of the matter will give you the information needed to make changes required to avoid problems and eliminate waste wherever possible. Even if it is determined that someone is doing something wrong, that does not necessarily mean that they need to be disciplined or even fired. Instead, it should be looked at as a learning opportunity for both the employee and the whole team.
The more you can learn about the facts of the facility, the more informed your decisions will be. This can help you to eliminate waste and improve efficiency throughout the company. While it may seem simple at first, many companies have been able to make very significant improvements because they worked hard at collecting facts surrounding problems rather than just relying on assumptions.
The Three ‘G’ Principles
When combined together, gemba, gembutsu and genjitsu can be an extremely powerful continuous improvement strategy. It involves having the managers go to the actual shop floor (gemba) looking at the actual products involved (gembutsu) and gathering as many facts about the situation as possible (genjitsu).
For managers who are looking to make improvements within their facility, there is no better way to make sure you have all the information needed to make the right decisions. Whether using these three ‘G’ items alone, or as part of an overall Kaizen strategy, you will find that it makes process improvement much easier and more effective than it otherwise could be.
Implementing the Three ‘G’ Principles
One of the best things about the three ‘G’ principles is that it is so simple to implement. You don’t typically need to have extensive training classes or seminars. Instead, managers can just get up out of their office and begin spending more time near the shop floor and the actual products they are creating.
This will help them to naturally gather more facts by observing the way things are done and talking with the employees who are conducting the front line work. Each manager will have their own specific strategy. Some people, for example, will want to take a notepad to write down thoughts and information they learn. Others will bring a camera with them to take pictures.
No matter how you choose to implement these three ‘G’ principles in your facility, you will quickly find that you are able to make improvements that help to reduce or eliminate waste. Whether these improvements are big or small, they will lead to a more efficient and profitable workplace today and long into the future.
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