Posted by: Knightbird | October 17, 2011

Genchi Genbutsu

“It would seem that going to see something firsthand is simply a practical matter—although one that is infrequently practiced in most firms—rather than a value. The value of genchi genbutsu isn’t just the specific act of going and seeing, but the philosophy of how leaders make decisions. In this sense, there are two main aspects of genchi genbutsu.”

This quote is from Jeffrey Liker’s new book “Toyota Under Fire.” While I have a decent understanding of going to the Gemba, Liker opened my eyes even more about why we do this. Not only leaders must go and see, but anyone involved in the decision must go and see. This caused me to think about the “Rounding” done by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, under the consulting leadership of Quint Studer of The Studer Group. Here is his description of the benefits of rounding.

“The same idea can be used in business, with a CEO, VP, or department manager ‘making the rounds’ to check on the status of his or her employees. Rounding is all about gathering information in a structured way. It’s proactive, not reactive. It’s a way to get a handle on problems before they occur and also to reinforce positive and profitable behaviors. Best of all, it’s an efficient system that yields maximum ROI.”

I have disliked Rounding from the moment I heard of it. And this quote explains why. Genchi Genbutsu has a specific purpose. It is the fact gathering phase for problem solving. And you can see how Studer refers to “profitable behaviors” and “maximum ROI.” Rounding is not part of a culture and its purpose seems to be spying on your employees on a regular basis. In essence, by rounding you are alerting employees to look their best at the appointed times. Are you likely to encounter problems? Probably not. Employees who are  watched tend to know when to perform, and they realize that revealing problems is not something they should do.

In a Lean Culture, our focus must be on our customer (patient here). Instead of spending an hour watching our employees, we should be changing the culture of blame and shame, creating pride in workmanship, teaching our employees the culture and tools of lean, and assisting them with how to surface problems in a structured environment of solving. We need to show our support by participating in Kaizen, by assisting with fact gathering and sharing possible solutions. We need to let employees know that they can solve problems. As Executives we rarely solve problems, we create them. That’s why I have delegated most of the problem solving to those who work at the Gemba, and give them my support in freeing up resources and providing the assistance they need.

Genchi Genbutsu, going to the Gemba, fact finding and problem solving are tools every employee should have. And they should be used for the purpose of providing value to their customer.  Maximum ROI and profitable behaviors are not lean concepts. However, both concepts are realized when the principles of lean are implemented in an organization. That should be our goal.


  1. I’ve never been a client of the Studer Group, but my reaction to Quint’s description of rounding (or “rounding with a purpose”) was quite positive when I’ve read his book. It sounded like Lean and it sounds like respectful servant leadership. I never interpreted his book in a way where rounding was spying on people. You’re right that rounding or gemba walks aren’t about spying and policing. We need mutual trust and respect throughout the organization, of course.

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