The Gemba

Beyond the Window

by Joseph Paris

Part 1

looking at warehouse.jpgI love the smell of machine oil. I love to hear the clanging and clanking of machinery in operation. I love the banging when one machine hammers away at a piece of metal to form it into something new, or the high-pitched “whir” of a loom or spinner in operation. And I love the way huge apparatuses groan and creak, as if they are alive and straining under the pressure of the heavy load they are bearing.

I especially enjoy watching people hard at work creating things that other people will use. To watch an inspector strain to see something under a magnifying glass or microscope to make sure the product meets specifications; or the whizzing around of forklifts and the occasional and unique “beep-beep” sound they make to let everyone know they are coming through; or the machine operators as they watch the mechanical monsters that are their charge toil away; precisely, steadily, relentlessly.

Indeed, there is nothing like walking around a shop floor and just observing man and machine.

A person can tell a lot about a business’s operations, its culture, and its health just from walking around the shop floor. When I walk a shop floor (or warehouse) I can almost precisely predict which companies are destined for success and which ones are bleeding cash or on the “morphine drip,” on the path to their demise. In Lean, we call walking the shop floor by a person in management, a gemba walk; or walking “the real place.”

Think about the shop floors you may have walked in the past—or the one you may walk tomorrow…

Gemba written in Japanese

There is usually a single entrance to the shop floor that is closest to the general manager’s office. In almost every company, the best-looking part of the shop is the area where the manager can immediately visit; I will call it “the foyer.” This area of the shop floor, closest to this particular door, is in finer shape than any other place in the building. It has the best lighting, the shiniest floors, and the newest machines. The boxes have no creases or dents, and the tools and inventory are (mostly) put away. It will certainly make the best possible impression on anyone who might look inside, much like the foyer to a home. This is precisely what the general manager wants to see when he looks out the little window in the door – and it is this view that he imagines exists throughout the rest of the facility. The workers on the shop floor are eager to support and perpetuate this myth because it means the general manager will stay in his office and not have cause to inspect the rest of the facility, especially—God forbid—the warehouse. The illusion is complete.

Looking through the window is not gemba, however. No sir; to see gemba, you have to be prepared to get dirty, and you have to be prepared to see what you don’t want to see—the waste and corruption.


joe paris.JPG

The above article is the first of three parts written by Joseph Paris. Paris is the founder and chairman of the XONITEK Group of Companies, an international management consultancy firm specializing in all disciplines related to operational excellence, the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there; the pursuit of operational excellence by design, and not by coincidence.

He is also the founder of the Operational Excellence Society, with hundreds of members and several chapters located around the world, as well as the owner of the Operational Excellence Group on LinkedIn, with over 25,000 members.

For more information on Paris, please check his LinkedIn profile at:

Search All Topics

Articles in This Series

 Call Us! 877-674-7495