To innovate the factory, observe the Gemba

innovating the factory

Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “actual place” or “the real place”. For manufacturing companies, Gemba is the factory, but it can be any “site” such as a construction site, place or platform where the service provider interacts directly with the customer.

In the Lean culture, the Gemba plays a fundamental role. In Gemba the transformation of the raw material takes place, a service is generated, therefore the final value for the customer. For an innovator, it therefore becomes essential to experience Gemba in order to be able to identify and solve a problem (waste associated with poor quality or poor organization) or to identify a strategic opportunity (new production capability, new technological solution, new approach).


“MBA Graduates May Be Good at PowerPoint, But They Don’t Know How Things Work” – Elon Musk


During an interview, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX underlines how the model according to which many MBA graduates, often without practical experience in the field, are “parachuted” into top positions by virtue of their degree, is the cause of lack of innovation in American companies. These managers tend to spend most of their time in meeting rooms, in front of a monitor, without paying attention to where the value is created. In a manufacturing context, this value is mostly generated in the design and production phase of the product. Anyone who has read his biography knows, for example, how Elon Musk spends most of his time in the shopfloor in contact with the design and manufacturing engineers, bombarding them with questions to learn the critical issues and trying to solve problems personally.

Knowing how to observe the Gemba

In their book “The Innovator’s DNA”, Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen point to the ability to observe as one of the fundamental characteristics of innovators.


“Observation is the big turning point
in our company
” — Scott Cook, founder, Intuit


For the authors, observation is a key discovery skill for most innovators who tend to generate ideas from one of two types of observations:

  • Look at people in different circumstances who are trying to do a job and get information on which job they really want to finish.
  • Observing people, processes, companies or technologies and seeing a solution that can be applied (perhaps with some modification) in a different context.

In industrial contexts, therefore, experiencing the Gemba, experiencing first-hand the problems that those who work on the front line have to face every day, becomes fundamental, just as it is essential to be able to observe and listen to the voice of the Gemba, where the problems and therefore also many opportunities.
Moreover, very often it is useful to have a different point of view, therefore having different experiences to create associations between problems and solutions in different contexts.

Knowing how to associate problems and solutions generated in different contexts: the TRIZ

A similar approach is used by TRIZ, a Russian acronym for “Theory for Inventive Problem Solving” formulated by Altshuller, who, after studying a large number of patents while working in the patent department of the Soviet naval military fleet on the Caspian Sea, was able to devise a series of general solutions capable of solving any problem of various kinds. In fact, a specific problem can be conceptualized into a general problem which will consequently have a series of possible general solutions. Finally, each general solution can be traced back to a particular solution (NB: if you want to know more about it, take a look at our online course Tools and metrics for New Product Development)

Where to start to innovate a Factory?

In this post we have emphasized how, in a production context, it is essential to observe and know how to listen to the voice of the Gemba, that is, the place where value is created for the company. However, its importance often tends to be underestimated by creating a gap between the place of business management and the place of production with the result of losing sight of the main players in the generation of competitiveness. Anyone wishing to introduce innovation in a factory will therefore have to experience it, observe it, listen to it often taking inspiration from different ideas, skills and backgrounds. In contexts of new digital technologies, or 4.0, this means creating highly multi-disciplinary teams able to find strategic opportunities that are not relegated to predictable models.

In this sense, Accialini Training & Consulting has in the experience and observation of Gemba and taking different points of view two of its main strengths, having worked in different production contexts at an international level. We are therefore able to give you adequate support in identifying innovative solutions and implementing a strategic roadmap, also from a 4.0 perspective. Take a look at our Industry 4.0 Walk Through service.

For more information, contact us to discuss your needs in detail.

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I had the pleasure of attending some of his valuable courses. Technically very capable and excellent dialectic and interlocutory ability.
Industry innovations and the latest in technology are his strong point.

Giovanni Veronese
CEO, Studio Tecnico Sistemi S.r.l.

Nicola was super engaging, very clear, always open to debate and willing to accept different points of view. Very helpful even outside the course hours for doubts. Positive experience. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Katia Gaspari
CAD Designer, SDM tooling S.r.l.

Extremely interesting course performed by a competent and professional speaker ready for any answer for doubts and perplexities

Alberto Dalmasso
CAD Designer, SDM tooling S.r.l.

Nicola is a very experienced manufacturing engineer, especially on gears. He adopted ideas from the big, trending themes like Industry 4.0, big data and automation and turned them into pragmatic solutions.

Tim Sowa
Capability Acquisition Leader, Aerospace Transmission Technologies

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