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The Epicenter of Improvement: Getcha Genba Boots On!

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We've focused a lot on improvement this month, from ways to develop a kaizen-inspired mindset in your organization, to areas where you can cut waste and reduce shipping costs.

But even if you follow every piece of advice on the subject, how will you know if your business is getting better, or find out what's really going on where the action happens in your organization?

Hiking back to Japan for inspiration, here's the simple answer: get your boots on and "go to Genba."

Also referred to as Gemba in the Western world, the term is rooted in Japanese improvement philosophy and quickly spread as a popular way to reconnect with everyday business operations. It means "the real place," referring to the location in your business where the fundamental work gets done, where value is created.

The thinking goes that if you really want to see what's going on in your organization, you need to observe it in action.

In such a hands-on industry as fulfillment and warehousing, we see all of the action moving cargo in and out of our facilities in New Jersey and California. It gives our team an instinctive feel for creating efficient, cost-effective systems, while always looking for ways to improve them.

But it's not just your supply chain that can benefit from Genba, it's the entire organization. Many well-known brands subscribe to the idea, one of which was instrumental in bringing the concept to a wider audience.

Going to Genba with Toyota

English: Employee at Display at the Toyota Mus...
Toyota Museum, Japan - By Bertel Schmitt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the fundamental pillars of continuous improvement at Toyota, the company takes an even wider view of Genba's impact on its production system:

"The philosophy of Genba means that all actions and processes are as transparent as possible."

From that transparency, which is intended to make all of the company's systems easy to observe, managers and team members can conduct regular reviews and more readily spot potential improvements.

It's about more than just being in the right place, though. According to Toyota's honorary chairman Fujio Cho, the following three aspects of Genba are what create a unique platform for improvement:

  • Go see: Be in the place where value is created for your company, but also observe. Watch the processes at work, the people undertaking them, and the procedures they follow to ensure that the job gets done.
  • Ask why: When a process seems unclear, or you're uncertain why something is done, it's time to ask questions. Ask why things work this way, what the objective is, and whether the process has changed over time. This prompts a broader knowledge of the organization, as well as a base for prioritizing areas for improvement. Advocates of Genba principles recommend the following order for effective questioning: What? >> Why? >> What if? >> Why not?
  • Show respect: This seems like common sense, but can easily be overlooked when you're laser-focused on improvement. Looking for things to do better implies that something isn't yet optimal, which for some people is unavoidably negative. This element serves as a reminder to tread carefully and encourage before introducing ideas for optimization. Often, this is best achieved by involving those who create value through activities in the Genba and encouraging their ideas to improve the processes you select.

Genba, Kaizen, and Your Business

Genba Kaizen methodology examines a great deal more than these three fundamentals, but they give you a grounding for considering the philosophy for your organization. If you have room for improvement in your operation - and who doesn't? - it might be time to get your boots on, as they say, and go to Genba.

Consider these questions:

If you were to go to Genba, which area of your business would you observe first?

Do you apply the principles of kaizen to make your business better? How do those ideas inform processes in the area you've chosen to observe?

Which team members could you approach to help you understand operations "on the ground?"

All of this applies to more than managing your supply chain, but there are many aspects of warehousing and order fulfillment that could benefit from the Genba Kaizen approach.

If you could use some help reviewing your operation for improvements, contact us with comments or questions at FulfillmentDelivered@capacityllc.com.

We look forward to hearing from you!