Genchi Gembutsu : get down on the field!

What the Toyota method can bring to your managers.

Aimery Duriez-Mise
Genchi Genbutsu, send your managers to the field

The Genchi Genbutsu is a key principle of the Toyota Production System (aka “TPS”), which encourages managers to step out of their desks, meeting rooms, and to spend time in the field – or in the shop for Toyota.

Its name translates from Japanese to English as “real location, real thing” or “go and see”.

Legend tells that Taiichi Ohno, the founder of Toyota, would take the young «Executive» recruits to the workshop. He drew a circle and asked the newcomer to observe and record what he observed. If his analysis and conclusions did not convince him, Taiichi Ohno asked him to continue to observe.

This exercise is still practiced regularly by the various hierarchical lines of Toyota, even the highest.

The exercise does not consist of a “walk the floor” or a “president’s visit” where the principle is to welcome the “president” in a factory that has been cleaned before. And this in a choreography that will have been scripted and repeated before.

The Genchi Genbutsu is on the contrary a visit in real condition, which must correspond to the daily experience of a factory worker.

The “visitor” posture is fundamental for this exercise. He is not expected on his presumed knowledge, charisma or authority. He must show humility, blend into the landscape without influencing it and be attentive and empathetic.

Objectives of this exercise are multiple:

  • Observe real conditions of application of gestures and procedures
  • See value creation and loss of efficiency zones
  • Then work with people in the field to maximize the first and reduce the seconds

Want an example of a concrete results from this type of exercise?

One of Toyota’s top managers in the US, as part of the launching of a new van model, drove 53,000 miles to test the vehicle in real conditions.
He learned there many lessons, including the following two:

  • In Japan, the population does not eat in vehicles, as opposed to the US which requires to equip the vehicle with multiple cup holders as well as small trays to hold Burger and French fries (OK, cliché)
  • If the parents are the one who buying the car, the choice of vehicle is actually dictated by… their children!

If you are a manager, you must have realized that driving your team based on indicators can be completely misleading. This is the principle of the “watermelon” KPI: green outside (what you want to show to your hierarchy) and red inside (reality of the terrain).

That’s why you want to get down on the field.

If you’re still in a closed office, get out!

Block off one day a week to start, during which you will sit within one of your teams. If possible, change of location every 4 to 6 weeks. So the team get used to your presence and start acting naturally, without bias. You will see, results will surprise you.

You may argue that you don’t have time. That your agenda is already full of meetings. But if the CEO of Toyota takes the time to do this on a regular basis, you probably can.

Now, if you’re not yourself a manager, you’re probably smiling and telling yourself that it’s true – and that it’s time for your management to get down into the field 😈

It’s not wrong… but it’s reductive 😜

In my opinion, the Genchi Genbutsu can be applied much more broadly than in this managerial framework.

If we focus on Application Support job, this can result – for example – in spending time with your users !

We sometimes talk about “live my life” for this type of exercise. This is usually a one-time exercise, sometimes included in the training path of newcomers to a support team.

This is a great practice! But its value will increase in proportion to its repetition frequency. Discuss it with your Business and plan it in your calendar. If the result is successful, share the results with your entire team and invite them to do the same 😊

And why limit it to your users?

If you are not yet in a Feature Team model, then performing this same exercise with the Development, Business Analyst or Testing team will necessarily bring a lot of value.

I hope I’ve convinced you of the value of this.

If so, like/ share/ clap it. And feel free to comment on whether you are already applying this type of approach and if so what you get from it. If you do not, tell me if you intend to test it, if you encounter difficulties or nice surprises.

And if you would like to explore this subject further, I advise you to read :

Genchi Genbutsu, send your managers to the field

Aimery Duriez-Mise


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