Gemba is an interesting process for management introduced by the Japanese. In Japanese, it is often pronounced “Genda” and written 現場. Gemba means “the real place.” Its goal is to see how work is done and tools are used, then designing the tools and work area and process to make it easier to accomplish the task at hand. This is a great concept to help developers using the Scrum/Agile Methodology to develop better designs and implementations. The best example of the use of Gemba is in its use in the medical field presented by Deborah Adler on TEDxRVA.
For Deborah’s work, designing for the individual to solve a specific problem is the key to a great design to solve a common problem for many individuals. Her key phrase is “Don’t create for the world, create for a person.”
Observation, listening, and correctly perceived problem identification is the key to Gemba. This fits very closely to the purpose of Scrum Methodology and specifically two-week Scrum Sprints. Each Sprint needs to have a deliverable. All Shareholders are involved with the initial Working Agreement and the final acceptance of what is produced (or “Done“) in each Sprint. Use these opportunities to create the best product possible. Gemba was developed independently from Scrum, but there are many similarities. Both emphasize streamlining the process as much as possible. Make the product as simple and intuitive to use as possible and remove any unused overhead that hinders the progress of either the developers or users of the product. Gemba is a tool for leaders, managers, and supervisors. A Scrum Master is the facilitator of the Scrum process, and is the leader or go-to person all the members of the team consult on ways to produce a better product more quickly. Scrum Masters would be benefited from understanding Gemba.
A good example of how to implement Gemba was given by Steve Jobs when asked about the detail of the use of Java and the purpose of OpenDocs at Apple. As CEO, Steve Jobs could not know the detail of every project, but must be aware of and set the overall strategy, vision, and mission for Apple. When confronted, he acknowledged that there were valid points to the gentleman’s criticism. Then he adds: “The hardest thing is: How does that fit into a cohesive, larger vision, that’s going to allow you to sell eight billion dollars, 10 billion dollars of product a year? And one of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it.” The whole point of Gemba is to know the customer and the customer needs. How do you solve those needs than not only meets the needs but thrills the customer?