A Walk to Gemba

13 Feb


I was at a local industry event last week with our partner @IndustryStar in Ann Arbor, MI. At the event there was a presenter who shared a presentation on the workflow of industrial design. The presentation itself was fascinating and visually eye-catching. Even more profound, it emphasized how important it was to go see how a design not only impacts the end customer, but also those who had to realize it, sell it, deliver it and support it.

This was an “Aha” moment for me. I always assumed designers just made incredible looking renderings of products to make customers want them. 😉


The coolest part of the whole concept? It was wrapped into a single word: Gemba. Gemba is a Japanese word meaning “go to the place”. My old friend Google came up with a couple of other interpretations ranging from “the actual place” to “the place where value is created”. I decided to subscribe to the latter of these interpretations and see how it might apply to the technology space.

What is “the place where value is created” in a software company? Is it:

  • The development schedule or the quality assurance process?

  • The sales and marketing organization?

  • Implementation or technical support?

  • The point of use by the end customer?

The answer is: all of them. Because they all provide value to the next phase of realizing an information solution. The value at the end user experience will be less sustainable if the value within the development, delivery and support processes do not receive due focus.


In the software world (and probably others) it is easy to get caught up in the tireless pursuit of the user experience (UX) of a product. Constant questions like:

  • What would be the most visually appealing user interface?

  • How few clicks could we require to accomplish the goal?

  • How can we use icons to make a user intuitively know what our app is supposed to do?

But often what does not get considered is: how will this experience be implemented rapidly and in a sustainable way?

As a product manager I don’t have enough fingers (or toes) to count the number of times I said, “This is the solution the customer wants!” Only to find out that once it was built, while close, the customer wanted something different. This could have been due to changing requirements or an honest mistake on my part, but what was clear to me every time was that change was inevitable and adaptable delivery models are essential.


So, back to Gemba. If your job involves managing or delivering solutions to customers. Take to heart the opportunity to go to (or get as close as possible to) the place where value is created. Understand the importance of the big picture and leverage that knowledge to change the world.

To explore more - Google: Gemba Walk

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