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  • Writer's pictureAntónio Sousa

Gemba Kanri - the importance of shopfloor management in achieving high-level performance


In this article we share some of our experience in implementing standardized management methodologies for daily operations in the shopfloor, specifically through the implementation of Gemba Kanri.


The activities we organize with our clients provide us with a privileged perspective of observation, as we are deeply involved in the organization's operations while maintaining an external point of view on the processes. As this is a fundamental aspect of our performance, it also allows us to carry out a global analysis of all the organizations we deal with, where we often see considerable inconsistency in the level of operational performance, which is reflected in the usual quality, cost and service KPIs.

For example, there can be unexplained variations in productivity over the course of the day or week, problems reoccur or the good practices implemented are not maintained. These difficulties lead to stress and negative tension in the organization.

These facts can be observed different size organizations, operating in different sectors of activity (industry, services, distribution, retail, etc....) and in different market contexts.

From the analysis and experience of our team, it is possible to point some of the possible causes for these problems: poor information, communication difficulties, different ways of carrying out tasks, lack of clear objectives, lack of middle management autonomy, lack of systematization in problem solving.

From this we conclude that many organizations have gaps in the effective management of the processes, with no consistent and usable link in practice between the strategy and the performance indicators at each level of the organization, from the top to the shopfloor.

In fact, proximity management is often neglected, seen as a less noble task and exercised in a less than consistent way. In extreme cases, it is reduced to carrying out administrative tasks and taking a reactive attitude to the symptoms observed (also known as "putting out fires"), without looking to eliminate the problem's root causes . In other ocasions, this kind of management reacts - wrongly - to situations that are part of the normal variation of the process. For example: the level of defects for the week is higher than the previous week, so corrective measures are taken without taking into account the normal behavior of the process.

The tasks of shopfloor management must be standardized in order to ensure that the resources allocated to it are optimized and their effectiveness is constant.

Standardized shopfloor management is called Gemba Kanri in the language of its country of origin, Japanese. This term comes from the combination of the words Gemba (the real place, where things happen, where value is added) and Kanri (administration, control, management).

Gemba Kanri is a management methodology whose ultimate goal is to improve efficiency by involving all employees in the continuous elimination of inefficiency and waste (tasks with no added value). In a more practical sense, what is Gemba Kanri used for?

It is used to:

  • Ensure that management deals with the really important issues and in accordance with their level of decision-making.

  • Ensure that all hierarchical levels know their own objectives, the overall objectives of the organization and that everyone is working to achieve these objectives.

  • Make problems visible

  • Solve problems and make decisions more quickly, on Gemba.

  • Ensuring standardized work.

This approach puts great emphasis on standardized work (to keep waste out of the Gemba), problem solving (identifying and permanently eliminating waste) and defining (or clarifying) roles and responsibilities.

The particularities of each organization and it's level of maturity, regarding improvement activities, means that the implementation of Gemba Kanri can have different sequences and durations. Nevertheless, we can explore the key stages:


In a situation where the difficulties mentioned above can occur, it is important to identify the causes and their relative importance. A possible first step in implementing Gemba Kanri could be to analyze the current organization model and identify the most suitable one (by value stream, by process, by customer, among others). If the option leads to the implementation of a different model, the roles and responsibilities will have to be defined and the appropriate profile identified for each role. This type of activity is closely linked to another stage in the implementation of Gemba Kanri, the Definition/Clarification of Responsibilities.


Although it may not be necessary to change the organization model, it is important to carry out an analysis of roles and responsibilities in order to:

  • Clarify the mission of the department/unit and its contribution to the company's objectives.

  • Define roles and responsibilities within the department/unit.

  • Define the profile for each role

  • Alocate employees according to the standard profiles for each role.

  • Identify and correct mismatches.


To translate the company's strategy into quantified high-level objectives and for these to be rolled out to all levels of the organization, key performance indicators must be defined. The set of indicators to be defined must allow employees to see how their work is performing, as well as establishing the link between their performance and the company's overall results. To put this into practice, it is necessary to identify indicators, write down their operational definiton , define how the data is collected and set the targets.


Visual boards to make KPIs visible have to be developed for each level of the organization, so that all employees can follow the performance of the process in which they are directly involved. It should be noted that these supports are not just for the KPIs, but are important tools for passing on information and are also a basis for giving visibility to problems, triggering and monitoring their resolution.

These visual aids must be simple and easily readable and updatable.

Integration between the various levels of the organization must be guaranteed, as well as establishing a routine for updating and analyzing information.

Painel de Gestão Diária
Daily Management Board example

It's also important to note that the evolution of technology has led to interesting advances in these practices, making it possible to replace whiteboards and paper with touchscreens, which not only allow faster and more interactive use, but are also connected to other systems for data collection, document management and communication (e-mail, messaging) with employees.

Active CockpiT
Active Cockpit (Bosch Rexroth)


All the elements described above are consolidated by defining, maintaining, controlling and improving a set of daily management standards and indicators. The different hierarchical levels and support functions are involved in these procedures in order to ensure that the Gemba works optimally. Everyone has a role to play, although the proportion of time each hierarchical level devotes to each type of task varies (respecting standards, improving current operations and resources, innovating). This distribution of roles and time has been schematized by Masao Nemoto as follows:


Nemoto Diagram

The standardization of management work involves defining a set of routines that ensure its maintenance and evolution:

  • Gemba walk: this is a Lean practice in which managers walk through the workplace following a well-defined route and observe processes first hand. It should be a frequent, short and objective activity, and the points to be observed should be standardized. During a Gemba Walk, the observer should try to understand the processes, compare their assumptions with reality, raise questions, analyze compliance with standards, identify waste, pay attention to the condition of the equipment, recognize any safety risks and build rapport with the work teams. You should do this in a constructive and approachable way, avoiding pointing the finger of blame at problems. In this way, you will make a decisive contribution to consolidating the Lean culture.

  • Meetings to analyze results and make decisions: at the various levels of the organization, quick meetings, often standing, in order to analyze and discuss key points and trigger actions.

  • Standardized response (criteria for action): how to react autonomously to a change in indicators

    • Actions within the competence of the sector / unit:

      • Use statistical analysis (SPC) of the evolution of indicators and the concept of normal vs. special variation.

      • Define rules for reaction (limits, trends...).

    • Actions outside the competence of the sector/unit:

      • Escalation criteria.

  • Define a standardized agenda/routine for the various participants, at the various levels, so that they are present at meetings and can have time dedicated to their key tasks and improvement tasks.

  • Define the type of improvement initiatives to be triggered by each level of the organization, depending on the problems highlighted.


A good application of Gemba Kanri, in a pragmatic way and with the right support, will undoubtedly make a big difference to the productivity and quality of companies, we are convinced of this and it is along these lines that we act.




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