What's San-Gen Shugi?

Posted on March 22, 2012 by


This article in the Harvard Business Review looks at how staff are trained in the Toyota Production System (TPS) to make improvements in the production process. The article picks out some of the key differences between TPS and the way most American and European enterprises tackle productivity improvement. I’ll focus on two points:

  1. There is no substitute for direct observation.
    Many western employees try to solve problems (for example, why a machine is unreliable) by thinking about the problem and devising hypotheses that can can checked. Toyota gets their employees to recognise the importance of direct observation.
  2. Managers should coach, not fix.
    Each worker looks for ways to improve the process, and the manager’s role becomes one of involving the team in identifying the problems and not doing all the work himself

The TPS lends itself to Deming’s writings about Leadership who understood that traditional supervisory activities are reactive rather than proactive. Many managers to pay a great deal of attention to reports and data which tell them what happened yesterday, last week, last month, or last year. Often such reports highlight the things that have gone wrong. Deming has compared this to attempting to drive a car by looking only in the rear-view mirror. Because of this, he observed that, “A supervisor is an auditor of failure, while a leader listens and learns, studies and understands and works to improve the system.” He also noted that “One important characteristic of a leader is that he will forgive a mistake – there will be mistakes.”

The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer book elaborates on these points using the principle of Genchi Genbutsuwhich means “Go and see for yourself” or San Gen Shugi ‘Three Reals Philosophy’:

  1. Genba: the real place – ‘the actual spot’; ‘the precise location’; ‘the place where the action is’ i.e. the shopfloor, in a manufacturing plant, or ‘the workplace’.
  2. Genbutsu: the real thing – look at the real part or the real service provided (whether good or bad) and analyze it while focusing on the facts
  3. Genjitsu: realistic action – speak with data for a better understanding

Is this more effective method than simply reading a report?

Posted in: Lean, TPS