A New Year, a New Gemba

January 1, 2011 Gemba Kaizen.jpg


I welcome 2011 with a great deal of optimism and excitement. Today marks a new beginning for our company, our team and for me personally. Thirteen years ago we founded Gemba Research with the goal of doing something significant towards expanding the understanding of kaizen, the Toyota Production System and what we have come to call lean. We set out to become the best global TPS consultancy. We have not achieved that yet but this focus helped us make decisions along the way to guide our growth and development. One of these decisions takes effect today, January 1, 2011.


For the past six months we have been in close cooperation with another global lean consulting firm whom we have respected highly for many years. We quickly realized that the two companies shared the same values, had similar long-term visions and complemented each other very well in terms of geographic locations, capabilities and industry experience. Key individuals within the two firms met in various parts of the world, we shared business opportunities, and we set an aggressive target to fully merge our two companies as one at the start of 2011. As of today, we are a new Gemba.


Kaizen Institute was founded 25 years ago by Masaaki Imai, the author and professor who was the first to introduce Kaizen and Gemba Kaizen to the world in books of those names. As part of Kaizen Institute Consulting Group, the Gemba team will combine our forces to form a global team of nearly 300 people with operations in 30 countries. Driven by the mission to spread the true meaning of kaizen worldwide, my new company is the longest-running lean consultancy, has the deepest worldwide coverage and with the combined strengths of Gemba and Kaizen, will be the best.


So this year I am entering a new gemba with new challenges and opportunities. My role will be similar to what it has been for Gemba Research, joining the global leadership team of Kaizen Institute Consulting Group to help guide its growth and development. The challenges will be to effectively merge and integrate a diverse team of professionals around the globe and to standardize and improve how we do what we do. Luckily, our name is now Kaizen so this should not be a problem. Different gemba, same kaizen.


The more we studied and compared our businesses and saw opportunities to remove waste, stop losses and enhance both quality and scope of services to our clients, it became almost shocking. This must be what our clients experience. It will take some weeks for me to grasp our full potential. For example where Gemba Research has lacked a presence in the past in countries such as India and Russia, and becoming part of Kaizen Institute now brings the capability to deliver excellent service to our clients in these developing economies with strong needs for lean management. Our North American team joins forces with Kaizen Institute Lean Advisors, arguably the leader and pioneer in applying lean healthcare as well as lean government and service. The two companies combine our lean tours into one integrated offering, vastly expanding our network and ability to lead in-depth lean tours in Europe, Japan and other countries. Kaizen Institutes has developed a sophisticated three-tier Kaizen qualification training program which will accelerate the development of kaizen leaders as we roll it out worldwide. Gemba Academy delivers world class online training in lean and kaizen, and becoming part of Kaizen Institute allows us to expand our reach.


There are many other ways in which the merger of these two companies will bring benefits to the lean community and the world in general as it pertains to the spreading of the understanding and practice of the true meaning of kaizen. On that, more in the coming days.


As game-changing as we believe this union of Gemba Research and Kaizen Institute to be, we will strive to plan slowly and thoroughly and act decisively, turning the PDCA wheel many times. We will no doubt make mistakes along the way, but certainly not the same ones from the rich library of recent mistakes both companies have to draw from. We will listen closely to our customers to ensure continuity of service, manage change within our own organization to the best of our ability, and strive.


During the next 12 months the Gemba website and other visible brand elements will gradually be changed to those of Kaizen Institute. In the short term the Gemba name will persist to ensure continuity. During this process we expect that the Gemba Research name will change to Kaizen Institute. We also expect that there will be lasting changes to Gemba will bring to Kaizen, both visible and more subtle ones.


This blog will continue to be a sometimes whimsical personal platform for sharing thoughts on lean, kaizen and the Toyota Production System. Panta Rei means “everything changes” but this blog may not change so much. As a team member in Kaizen Institute, my hope is to share the ideas and voices of my new kaizen family also in this forum. I hope readers will forgive me if in 2011 my enthusiasm leads to self-promotion of Kaizen Institute, my new Gemba.


I wish you all of the best and continuous improvement in work, play, life and love.


Jon Miller

5S Red Tag Event for this Website

Thanks to a reader’s timely comment, I am happy to share with you some news about some accelerated change to our blog. “The site looks like it needs a red tag event!” said Shaun. Right you are! What surprised me was that nobody had ever said this before by readers with high standards for 5S and other lean practices. We call our blog gemba panta rei which means roughly “things are always changing on the shop floor” if you parse the combination of Japanese and Greek. This blog is also changing.


As we have experimented with various layouts and designs this site has gotten progressively cluttered, and it is time now to refresh it. What better place to start than with 5S? Here is the result of a preliminary 5S red tag event for this site. We asked ourselves, “What does our customers value?” In this case there are both internal and external customers. The guiding principles are to make the information customers want, when they want, in the amount they want, error-free. We will start by removing some of what is taking up space without adding much value, and also by culling outdated or irrelevant articles from the past.


5s red tag event gemba panta rei.png


Within a couple of weeks you will see a much simpler look to this blog. Everything changes, even this blog. If it’s a change for the worse, be sure to let us know.

The Essential Lean Blogosphere of 2008



Welcoming A New Voice


As one of the elder statesmen of the lean community, John Shook is an important new voice to join the lean blogosphere in 2008. In this weekly post he takes a deep look at what give Toyota strength and flexibility, and how GM failed. He asks “Survive to Make Money or Make Money to Survive?” I look forward to more of John’s insightful perspective in 2009 as Toyota faces new challenges.



Structure Our Days Around Going to See


Kevin Meyer wrote at Evolving Excellence is adept at generating envy while enlightening, writing sharp blog entries on his laptop on the hood of his Ferrari on the deck of his 700 foot yacht moored off of Tahiti. On a serious note, Kevin reflects while taking a walk on the beach on the importance of really seeing and sensing rather than believing and not seeing. Not seeing what is in front of us, due to various habits, biases or simply wishful denial is what prevents us from doing kaizen. That may be part of the answer to the question by Mark Rosenthal at the Lean Thinker, Why Doesn’t Daily Kaizen Happen? Speaking of which, Ted Eytan at Daily Kaizen gives practical advice on his Guide to Bringing Your Boss to the Gemba. Taking people to the actual workplace to observe and learn is an important step towards seeing and sensing what is really happening. Mike Wroblewski at Got Boondoggle? who is always ready with a great story from the front lines of lean implementation offers an insightful reflection about the importance of going to see and listen, the importance of how information flows, and communication within the value stream. Making the standard process visible, going to see and making kaizen a structured part of your day is what Michael Lombard of the Lean Builder writes about in his succinct review of the book Creating a Lean Culture. And we can read a great real life example of this in practice at the Training Within Industry blog in an article titled Working in the Standard Work Cycle. A learning dialog takes place on gemba around the PDCA cycle of continuous improvement. As a daily personal practice of this, Pete Abila from Shmula demonstrates how the “check” in PDCA need not be an act of control but can be an act of caring when it is done with love and respect in Visual Management and Self Reliance.


Measure, Stop and Improve


The Venture Hacks blog has taken growing interest in lean. The Laws of Productivity


article pointed me towards some important concepts that as an entrepreneur I am reflecting deeply on and attempting to practice some of these things. There is so much room for improvement in my productivity as a knowledge worker that it makes me dizzy… How much of our days are spent in process firefighting instead of building processes, people and relationships with customers? Even a little is too much. This was illustrated skillfully with a story by Mark Graban at the Lean Blog. Helping to prevent the firefighting behavior is the behavior Tom Southworth at Lean Printing wrote about in Pulling the Andon Cord on Yourself. Stopping to call attention to an abnormality is detected is a way of working and taking personal responsibility essential to the kaizen mindset. John Hunter at Curious Cat blog wrote about the importance of using Information Technology and Business Process Support, using the help you have around you more effectively. There is so much to like in Ron Pereira’s blog Lean Six Sigma Academy and I’m always learning from him. My favorite in 2008 was not anything he wrote but the demonstration of his skills in front of the camera in Oranges, Pebbles and Sand. Ron reminds us that matter how much you improve, there is always more kaizen we can do.


What I Learned from the Lean Blogosphere in 2008



Thank you to everyone for sharing and giving. It takes time and commitment to write down your thoughts and read the writing of others day in and day out for years. Many other bloggers and articles from 2008 were very insightful and I only wish there was more time to read, comment and reflect on all of them every day. The three things I will take into 2009 from all of this are:

  1. Measuring my productivity in terms of value added output / hours input
  2. Pulling the andon cord on myself more frequently
  3. Using information technology and resources on my team as enablers

Special Mention: the award for the best six sigma blog article of 2008 goes to Snoop Dogg, the Business Geek at Shmula. How would we set up a DOE to disprove the hypothesis that it is nothing but a G thing, Pete?

About this Blog

Introduction to Gemba Panta Rei


Gemba Panta Rei is the corporate blog of Gemba Research, a kaizen consulting firm. In this blog we will share our thoughts on Lean manufacturing, kaizen, Lean healthcare, Lean governemnt, Lean transaction and better ways to make things better. The views and opinions on this blog are mostly reflect those of the writer of the blog, but are a fair reflection of the values of our company as a whole.


Goal and Purpose


The goal and purpose of this blog is to accelerate the reduction of waste of all types everywhere by offering perspectives, insights and practical advice on kaizen and Lean manufacturing. We aim to share our lessons learned, wins and losses as we work to spread the knowledge of how to do kaizen as widely as we can through this blog.


What is Gemba?


Gemba is a Japanese word that means “actual place” and is used to mean workplace where value is added. In manufacturing Gemba is the shop floor but it can by anywhere that you add value. Gemba Kaizen is a philosophy that improvement should be on-site, roll-up-your-sleeves, and quick. It is a key enabler for Lean manufacturing, Lean healthcare, Lean transaction and general bottom-line improvement activities.


Who Writes for this Blog?


Jon Miller is the CEO and co-founder of Gemba Research.


What is Panta Rei?


A Greek philosopher named Heraclites left a fragmented but important body of work. Many of his sayings relate to change and the changing nature of existence. The expression “panta rei” is ancient Greek for “everything changes” or “everything flows”. It is part of our philosophy of that change is always happening around us and that kaizen is a way we can add human creativity to make positive change to our lives.


Join the Conversation


We invite you to join in with your comments or experiences. At the end of each blog entry there is a space for you to enter your comments. You can comment on the articles, comment on other people’s comments, or simply share ideas and experiences you have about kaizen.


Copyright Notice


We are glad to share our knowledge, experience, and insights with you. However the material on this blog is copyrighted and is the property of Gemba Research LLC. Please note that no reproduction is permitted without prior written permission.

October: A Month of Lean-free Blogging

For the next 31 days there will be no mention of the word “Lean” in the posts on this blog. There will still be discussion on the subject, but no mention of the word itself. It will be an experiment with other ways of expressing or explaining what is commonly called “Lean”.


What brought this on? While in Brazil a few weeks ago I was humbled by a wise man who pointed out how we had failed in communicating the benefits for the Toyota system to his team. Fortunately they are still trying to learn ways to copy the Toyota Production System, but at the moment not from us. One of the perceived root causes was the use of the word “Lean” and the many associations that come with it.


We have never thought of ourselves as Lean manufacturing consultants. Lean may be a short cut to explaining what we do to a market that looks for labels, but it is insufficient. Kaizen as an action and as a philosophy has always had more currency for us. As the words “Lean manufacturing” have come into mainstream use, we have become lazy in thinking about what it really is that clients really need and what we really have to offer. That was the humbling lesson from Brazil.


So for the month of October 2006 there will be no mention of the word “Lean” on this blog and there will be deeper reflection of what people who use this world are really trying to acheive when we use the word Lean. I have no idea what this exercise will yield. Perhaps some new insights, no doubt an awkward circumlocution or two. Tune in to find out and to contribute to the discussion.