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Genba: the best way to innovate the factory


Genba is a Japanese term meaning “actual place” or “the real place”.

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

In Lean culture, the Gemba takes on a fundamental role.

In the Genba the transformation of the raw material takes place, a service is generated, then the final value for the customer. Therefore, it becomes crucial for an innovator to experience the 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, points out how the model he says is all-American, according to which many MBA graduates, often without practical experience in the field, are “parachuted” into top positions by virtue of their academic qualifications, is the cause of little innovation in American businesses.

These managers tend to spend most of their time inside meeting rooms, in front of a monitor, without paying attention to where value is created. In a manufacturing context, that value is mostly generated at the product design and manufacturing stage.

Those who have read his biography, for example, know how Elon Musk spends much of his time in the company in contact with design and production engineers, peppering them with questions to learn critical issues and trying to solve problems himself.

Knowing how to observe the Genba

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 key characteristics of innovators.

“Observation is the great 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:

  • Watch people in different circumstances as they try to do a job and get information about what difficulties they face.
  • Observe people, processes, companies, or technologies and find a solution that can be applied (even with some modification) in a different context.

In industrial environments, therefore, experiencing the Gemba, experiencing firsthand the problems that those working on the front lines face on a daily basis, becomes essential, just as it is essential to be able to observe and listen to the voice of the Genba, where problems and therefore also many opportunities lie.
In addition, very often it is useful to have a different point of view, thus having had different experiences to make associations between problems and solutions in different contexts.

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

A similar approach is used by TRIZ, Russian acronym that stands for “Theory for Inventive Problem Solving” formulated by Altshuller, who, after studying a large number of patents while working at the patent department of the Soviet Naval Fleet on the Caspian Sea, was able to devise a set of general solutions that could solve any number of different problems.

A specific problem, in fact, can be conceptualized into a general problem that will consequently have a number of possible general solutions. Finally, a particular solution can be traced back to each general solution (NB: If you want to learn more about this, check out 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 manufacturing context, it is crucial to observe and be able to listen to the voice of the Genba, that is, the place where value is created for the company.

However, there is often a tendency to underestimate its importance by creating a gap between the place of business management and the place of production with the result that we lose sight of the key players in generating competitiveness.

Those who want to introduce innovation into a Factory will therefore have to experience it, observe it, listen to it often taking cues from different ideas, skills, and backgrounds.

In contexts of new digital technologies, or 4.0, this means creating strongly multi-disciplinary teams capable of unearthing strategic opportunities not relegated to predetermined models.

Take a look at our catalog to discover courses that will help you innovate the Gemba, or factory. We recommend the following:

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Nicola Accialini

Hi there! I am Nicola, founder and admin of SkillS4i. Aerospace Engineer, technology enthusiast and industrial expert. I live in Spain and I like travelling, cycling, hiking and reading.

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