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A Gemba Walk in an Invisible Factory

In Lean management philosophy, performing a Genba (also known as Gemba) walk is essential for managers to achieve the highest quality process improvement.  The main concept behind the Genba walk is that problems, inefficiencies, and disconnects can be seen right where value is created. If managers physically observe the process, they can directly see the impact of processes and the changes that need to be made.

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Classically, a Genba has been a physical location where managers should regularly visit to gain insight into the processes that create value. Every organization has a Genba — the place they create value — but the location of that Genba is different for almost every business. In manufacturing the Genba is on the factory floor. In retail the Genba is in the store near the P.O.S. system. In a hospital the Genba is in the patient’s rooms.

Over the past 30 years, organizations have been implementing systems that fast-track processes by aiding workers with technology. Overtime, these technologies and tools took on larger and larger roles over the process to the point that many tasks could be be completed in an entirely virtual environment. In other words, your front-line employees are not necessarily working in physical places anymore.

For example, the prototypical Genba used to be the sales floor but now the sales floor is on Salesforce.com. How do you do a Genba Walk on Saleforce.com?

How do you do a Genba Walk on Box.com, Workday, SuccessFactors, HubSpot, Zendesk, GitHub?

Technology is changing the way your front-line employees work and create value in a way that is almost impossible for managers to see directly. Your organization’s Genba has not only moved but it has transported itself to an entirely virtual space. A place where processes are invisible and value is virtual.


This is the Invisible Factory.

Continuous improvement is needed just as much, if not more, in this Invisible Factory. Not only is 80% of the potential for organizational improvement locked up in this front line work but with these new applications, employees can make process changes instantaneously and effectively — finding many of your “quick win” improvements.

So, how do you perform a Genba walk when your Genba is on Salesforce?

The answer is not walking around looking at your employee’s computers — that’s the equivalent of walking through a factory and only looking at the tools in the toolbox without understanding how the tools are used. The value isn’t created literally on the computer but at the computer, in the cloud.

The answer is enabling an invisible Genba. A place for your workers to highlight inefficiencies as they find them. The answer is embedding this invisible Genba inside of your Invisible Factory. The answer is having leadership do a Genba walk on this platform (ie: actually use it) to notice the problems that your workers are experiencing and thinking about the proposed changes they’ve come up with.

We think technologies like SoapBox allow management to not only get ideas from physical Genbas like the manufacturing and retail floors, but also ideas from the invisible factories where the ideas are hardest to see.

The future is in the cloud and that’s where your Genba will be. Are you equipped to tap into the value from your organization’s Invisible Factory?

p.s. Thanks to Anandhi for letting me borrow some of her ideas for this post!

Harness the power of employee ideas.

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