Gemba Sessions


Go to the field to see by yourself


The concept of Gemba

Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re 1,000 miles away from a cornfield.”--Dwight Eisenhower

Gemba (現場) is a Japanese term which literally means “the existing place”. This is where everything happened (this word is also used for “crime scene”). This is where you have to go to understand what to place and why it happened.

Gemba sessions help to find improvement opportunities because innovation does not take place in the meeting room but where the value is created. It is crucial to do Gemba walking. Seating at your desk provides only explicit knowledge while discussion with people and having a look at things in their locations help to spot hints, this is tacit knowledge [Nonaka 1998].

Gemba Walk has a targeted location or locations and a skilled facilitator who, using his or her skills, engages people in a dialogue in order to identify opportunities for improvements. Gemba Walks do not focus only on “things” but people. This is why it is important to behave in certain ways during those sessions such as [Hafey 2017]:

  1. Adult-to-adult conversations
  2. Eye contact
  3. Active listening
  4. Initial introduction
  5. Small talk
  6. Seeking approval
  7. Always acknowledge people’s expertise & ask for help

The purpose in taking a walk is simple: to see and to understand how more value can be created with less waste [Womack 2011]. However, fixes found may lead to wrong solutions as per the Theory of Constraints: improving locally may ruin the overall flow. This is why Gemba walks usually follow value streams to get a systemic view.

Gemba walkers usually have a solid knowledge of practices and know the domain to be better at finding issues and improvement opportunities but there are some generic principles to follow [Womack 2011]:

  • Solve the customer’s problem completely, by ensuring that everything works the first time
  • Don’t waste the consumer’s time with queues of any sort
  • Provide exactly what the customer wants
  • Provide value where the customer wants
  • Provide value when the customer wants
  • Reduce the number of problems customers need to solve

Gemba walks are good for transparency, synchronization and proximity with people [Moustier 2020], which is vital for good leaders and innovation.

Impact of Gemba on the testing maturity

Gemba walks can be applied in any domain as long as you need to improve your deliveries to some Customers, should they be internal or not.

Since Gemba walks are rather heuristic-based than predefined scenarios, Gemba is really close to exploratory testing except it involves people instead of lifeless things.

Gemba walk sessions teach people to go and see customers and users in order to provide proper empathy maps and personae [SAFe 2021-39][Moustier 2020]. This is a simple way to put in practice the testing principle “Testing is context dependent”; the more you know about the context, the more relevant your tests will be because it impacts the way the product is used and the quality standards, thus the testing techniques to use [Bach 2019].

Agilitest’s standpoint on the Gamba practice

Blindlessly automating scripts will definitely create waste because you may provide some energy on features

  • that will not be ready
  • away from your expectations
  • or far from the business expectations

Doing some Gemba walks with Developers will help Merging the development and test automation ecocycles. If those walks are done with Users, it will help to define Acceptance Criteria notably in 3 Amigos or Example mapping workshops and should avoid testing valueless examples.

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© Christophe Moustier - 2021