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Going to the Gemba

6 min read

The term Gemba comes from Japan. It is translated to mean the actual place, or the place where something happened. When it comes to the workplace, the concept of Gemba is used specifically for encouraging supervisors, managers, and others in leadership to spend time not only in their offices but also out on the shop floor where work is actually done.

This is a similar concept to a practice commonly known as, “managing by walking around.” The idea behind both of these strategies is that when a leader is spending time out with the employees where work is done, they will be more effective. Learning more about Gemba and why it can be so effective is something that all leaders in manufacturing, warehousing, and just about every other industry should do.

History of Gemba in the Workplace

Unlike many management strategies today, the history of Gemba is not very well documented. While the origin of the word is obvious, the way that it was linked to managers walking to the place where the work was done is not. It is very likely that it got its start with the Toyota Motor Company, since this is where so many other efficiency improvement programs began. It also seems to have started in the same general timeframe.

Whenever the term Gemba began being associated with leadership spending time on the front lines, it is a strategy that has been used for over a century. In fact, there can be examples of similar strategies being used throughout recorded human history, though it was not necessarily the standard.

Having generals, and even kings, spending time with soldiers is a great way to boost morale and discover potential problems in the ranks. While modern industry is obviously not the same thing as ancient military, the concepts of Gemba can help to benefit them both.

Having leaders take time out of their day to directly observe the way things are done is something that has been going on for a very long time, and with good reason.

Benefits of Gemba

There are many advantages to having leaders throughout an organization begin spending time with their front-line employees. While every facility will benefit in different ways, the following are some of the most common perks that a company will get from beginning to use this strategy.

  • Casual Talking with Employees – When managers spend time out on the front lines, they are going to have many more opportunities to chat with the employees. These informal discussions with team members can help to get a lot of honest feedback.
  • Observing Production – By directly observing the work that is being done you will be able to come up with ideas on where things need to change based on more than just theory.
  • Building Relationships – You will be building relationships with your employees. This will help to reduce turnover, improve morale, boost production, and provide many other big benefits.
  • Identify Waste – It is difficult to identify where there are inefficiencies in a process when you are only looking at results of completed products. Looking directly at the production process will help you to identify where there is waste so that it can be eliminated.
  • Allow for Continuous Improvement – When you are always looking at the way things are operating and talking with those who are doing the work, you will have no shortage of information to help make things better. This is essential for continuous improvement in your area.

There are, of course, many other benefits that you will receive from implementing Gemba into your overall management strategy. One of the best things about Gemba is that leaders will almost always be surprised at what they discover when walking around on the front lines. This means that they will learn things about the way their systems work, which will give them the ability to make real improvements that address actual problems in their facility.

Common Objections to Gemba

As with any method of management, there are going to be some downsides as well. Understanding the most common objections to Gemba will help you to decide if it is a good option for you and your facility. In addition, this will give you a more balanced view of the system so you can determine exactly how it should be implemented. Some of the common objections are:

  • Takes a Lot of Time – Going out onto the shop floor or other front-line areas takes time. If you perform a Gemba walk every day, the amount of time you have available for other tasks can add up.
  • Micromanaging – If not done correctly, Gemba can actually cause employees to feel micromanaged instead of like they are given access to the management team.
  • Misunderstanding Work – Supervisors do not always know exactly how each job is performed. If you do not know how something should be completed, it can be difficult to gain valuable insights from watching a job being done.
  • No Action Taken – Some managers spend time on the shop floor but never make any changes to improve things based on what they learn. Gemba should never just be an excuse for someone to walk around and talk with team members.

As with the benefits of Gemba, the objections will be unique to each facility and every manager. If you start implementing a Gemba strategy, it is important to make sure that you are watching out for any downsides so that you can minimize them while still maximizing what your company is getting out of this strategy.

Getting Started with Gemba

While the concept of Gemba is really quite simple, the implementation might not be. If a company just tells managers to start spending a set amount of time on the shop floor each month, for example, it is very likely that this time will be largely wasted. This is why it is so important to get started doing things correctly in order to get the most benefits. The following are a few things that should be done to help all leaders in your organization properly take advantage of Gemba.

Gemba Training

Just like any new process in a facility, it is a good idea to provide supervisors with training. This training should explain what Gemba is, why it can be effective, and most importantly, how to do it. Telling leaders what to look for when walking around, how to keep focused on improvements, and other strategies will help to get the most out of this process.

Many companies will even bring in third party experts to help train leaders throughout the organization on how to optimize their Gemba efforts. This can help to provide an outside perspective and let everyone hit the ground running when getting started with Gemba.

Setting Times

If you do not put the Gemba process on a schedule, it is always going to get pushed back in favor of other obligations that come up throughout the day. Setting aside time to perform a Gemba walk will help to ensure that it gets done on a regular basis.

There are many options when it comes to scheduling your Gemba activities. Some managers like to do a Gemba walk once per week, others will do them less frequently but take more time on each one. There is no single correct way to do this. The important thing is that each supervisor figures out how often they should engage with this type of activity and stick with it over the course of a long period of time.

Taking Notes

When on a Gemba walk, supervisors are going to get a lot of information. This information can come from employees, watching production processes, or any number of other things. The things that are learned during this process will not be beneficial if they forget about them before any action can be taken. This is why taking notes is so important to any successful Gemba strategy.

Some leaders will bring a notepad and a pen to write down notes. Others will bring a tablet so they can record comments or write notes. Still others will video record their experience so they can go back and review key points, so they know they did not forget anything. No matter what option is chosen, the important thing is to make sure to take notes every time a Gemba walk is conducted so that all useful information will be utilized.

Measure Results

One last tip to help ensure Gemba strategies are effective for a facility is to start measuring results. Anytime you make a change in the way a department runs because of something that was learned on a Gemba walk, for example, the improvements that come from that change should be closely tracked.

Measuring the results that come from a Gemba walk will be critical for justifying the amount of time and effort that is used on these things. This is especially important when Gemba is being used by an individual leader rather than having been rolled out to an entire facility.

There is little doubt that Gemba is a very helpful concept in virtually every business, but only if it is done correctly.

Communication Needs Feedback

4 min read

Building a culture for your Lean processes to thrive on can be very difficult without the right tools and skills within the population of your facility. Lean is no different than safety or any other process your organization implements, it takes a culture that believes and thrives on the ideas your processes are founded on. Behind every culture though, is the understanding and appreciation for communication. Successful communication is made up of key ingredients, one of those being feedback.

provide feedbackFeedback is Key

Feedback is essential to improving communication. For many, the thought of open dialogue results in a spike in their anxiety levels, but this is more of a result of not having the skills to have an engaging conversation that allows for feedback. When you can understand and implement feedback into your everyday conversations around the workplace, you are able to add insight and more importantly, improve the conversation, allowing for it to be a foundation for future conversations.

Neglecting to give feedback is neglecting yourself of an improvement opportunity, Feedback helps one understand one another and allows them to interpret one’s behavior through effective dialogue. It allows us to continue our learning process by learning how others interpret our words. When we receive feedback, we understand what effect we are having on the conversation, which allows us to correct our behavior or tone if needed. This type of information gathering is what separates a constructive conversation from meaningless words.

It is important to understand that communication is a two-way street which requires a mutual understanding of the message being transmitted. Feedback is the linkage between what the communicator is trying to say and how the recipient is receiving the message. As the communicator receives feedback, they can then evaluate the effectiveness of their message and determine what changes, if any, need to be made.

Effects of Feedback

  • Turns a meaningless conversation into a meaningful one.
  • Helps sustain and improve the communication process.
  • Lets the communicator know if their message is being received properly.
  • Pushes the conversation flow and topic of what’s being discussed.
  • Completes the communication process or starts it over for further discussion.

The benefits of a culture built on engaging communication dependent upon feedback is clear, but getting there is a challenge. People need to be comfortable and trust one another, to properly benefit from feedback. To help, here are some key elements to keep in mind when trying to establish a culture that thrives on one’s feedback.

1. Relationships need trust

Whether it’s obvious or not in your workplace, some people have better relationships with one another than others do. Some good, some bad. Those relationships are built on trust and how well they communicate with each other is dependent upon their trust level with each other. Those with higher trust levels are going to be more willing to give feedback with one another during a conversation. Creating an environment where everyone is on the same trust level is difficult, but you can take the steps to help promote it.

Tips to help build trust:

  • Organize gatherings– Pizza Fridays, bagel Mondays, brainstorming meeting, these are just a few examples of ways to bring employees together. Once together, employees have the chance to get to know one another better and start the trust building process.
  • Let others know it’s ok to say no– Giving feedback is not about being a “yes man.” Saying no is actually a good way to show that you are listening and not just nodding your head.
  • Don’t rush to judgement– Sometimes you are not always ready to provide feedback. That’s ok. Bad feedback can be just as bad as no feedback at all. If you are not ready to provide the critical thinking necessary for constructive feedback, then postpone it until you are. This shows others that you want to put the effort in, but just need more time to do so.

2. Make it a positive experience

We’ve all had the boss or supervisor that felt they could get the best out of their staff by publicly criticizing them to make a point. This is about the worst way possible to build a culture that hopes to thrive on communication and feedback. Feedback is meant to help the recipient improve themselves or the situation at hand. Public criticism may provide a short-term impact, but if you want to build a culture that feels comfortable and open to give public feedback, keep it positive while in the open. There is a time and place for criticism, even negativity, but it’s behind closed doors.

3. Make it the norm

Providing feedback should not be a special event. Only providing feedback during special events can make people feel uncomfortable and take some of the sincerity away if it seems planned out. Feedback needs to be an organic part of the culture that everyone is comfortable doing and being around. Once the behavior appears to be the norm, more will be willing to participate and contribute to the feedback process.

Keep it up

Everyone takes feedback a different way. Our previous experiences play a big role in our current roles. This is something we should all be conscious of, when receiving and giving feedback. Don’t be discouraged by one’s emotional state. Continue to provide feedback, but adjust your method to get the best out of your effort, while providing them with the content they need to improve.

It also helps to provide feedback in ‘I-messages.’ Meaning, you say “I think,” rather than “you should.” This takes the perception away that you are being accusatory or judgmental in your feedback, which takes away from its purpose.

 One last thing

Your body language is extremely important during the course of a conversation. Body language is also considered feedback and can be just as negative as positive. Keep this in mind when you’re in a conversation and try to stay as neutral as possible with your body language. Let your words and critical thinking ability provide the feedback to be the most effective.

Jishuken 101

3 min read

What is Jishuken?

For those that work in a Lean inspired organization, the term “kaizen” is one of the more popular terms heard when someone talks about improvement. Kaizen though, is more of a philosophy than an actual activity. Jishuken however, is an actual activity within the kaizen philosophy that is driven by management and involves identifying specific areas in need of continuous improvement. An easy way to think of jishuken is to think of it as a “self study.” Within jishuken is another element where information is shared and spread throughout the entire organization to help stimulate kaizen.

The origin of jishuken has been said to be from a Japanese statement “kanban houshiki bukachou jishu kenkyuukai,” which means “kanban system department an section manager autonomous study groups.” This was later shortened to jishuken which is “self study” and often called “autonomous study groups” in English.


jishuken in actionHistory

The strategy behind jishuken is primarily that of a management driven activity aimed at getting team leaders and managers to conduct hands-on kaizen activities at the operational area, like the factory floor.

When Taiichi Ohno first began to develop the Toyota Production System (TPS), he required managers to gather on the factory floor to do hands-on kaizen activities. This would generally involve department managers and section managers from the Motomachi and Kamigo factories getting together, choosing a specific theme and working towards various ways to improve processes.

Although it would have been more cost-effective to let engineers perform this type of gemba kaizen, involving the managers in the kaizen process helped them understand, take ownership and build a culture of genchi genbutsu (go and see) at Toyota.

In the early stages of the TPS, the jishuken concept began with kanban. Today however, it is more frequently used in the context of study groups within the kaizen itself. Many facilities have suggestion systems that allow all employees to apply local and small daily improvements to their process. Jishuken though, focuses on bigger projects driven by mangers that are linked to business goals.


Like many TPS activities, Jishuken has both a learning goal and a productivity goal. It’s a method of gathering managers for problem solving in the production process and continuous improvement. Maybe more importantly though, is it can also help managers continue to improve their ability to coach and teach TPS problem-solving to others.

Jishuken is also a culture building tool. It helps construct a culture that identifies problems areas at the ground level and prepares a plan with a self analysis of the system. It also helps to promote interaction of operational staff and managerial staff to complete the process.

 Jishuken in Action

Many organizations have their variations of Lean procedures and concepts, but when you’re getting started it’s always best to look at the top. According to Mike Daprile, retired vice president of manufacturing for Toyota Motor, jishuken is applied to study line balance, identify machine issues, inefficiencies and other causes of waste.

Here’s how they do it according to Daprile:

  1. Select an area that needs improvement.
  2. Develop a team consisting of a lead person and personnel from various departments, including engineering, quality and production.
  3. Assign each team member a plant function to monitor.
  4. Team members ask questions for each task. For instance, in the case of changeovers, the team member might want to ask: How many changeovers are occurring, how many should occur in a normal day, and was maintenance needed to complete the changeover?
  5. The team leader tracks any issues on a jishuken worksheet that identifies what the problem is, what countermeasures should be taken, who is responsible for making the changes, and the date.
  6. The team leader meets with operators to discuss their findings and the changes implemented.
  7. Post the results in the general area, track the status of the changes, and continue to follow up with the countermeasures through the supervisor and the checklist.

Free 5S guide and poster










Leader Standard Work

3 min read

At the core of any Lean philosophy is the pursuit and sustainment of continual improvement. However, this continues to be a struggle for many Lean transformations as they attempt to implement these processes into their culture. Part of the problem, lies in the hands of the leaders that attempt to push new agendas into their organization. Leaders can make or break a Lean culture. With the help of Leader Standard Work (LSW) the make, is far more a reality than the break.

Leader Standard WorkLeader Standard Work requires a whole new mindset in your leader’s routines. It takes the leader from the boss’s chair to the coaches corner, promoting a show, not tell type of attitude. When leaders mimic the behavior they wish to see, it gives everyone else an example that they can use to establish their own actions for best practices.

The beauty of LSW is that it fits perfectly into Lean and especially Kaizen concepts, instilling a sense of ownership, accountability, empowerment and responsibility throughout the entire organization. This mentality is the glue in many organizations that holds the culture together and promotes an attitude that believes continuous improvement is possible at all times.

To standardize work methods is the the sum of all the good ways we have discovered up to present. It therefore becomes the standard. Today’s standardization is the necessary foundation on which tomorrow’s improvement will be based. If you think of standards as confining, then progress stops.

-Henry Ford

Leader Standard Work

Leader Standard Work is the repetitive pattern of activities that represent the current least wasteful method of planning and controlling normal business processes. In simplest terms, LSW is a check-list of leadership activities that are performed on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  Once something becomes repetitive it can become standardized and taught to anyone. A lot of a leader’s standard work will focus on specific activities where the work is being done (Gemba), but it is also important to set aside time in your routine for continual improvement as well.

The key is the repetition. Doing this daily will not only confirm that work is being done correctly, but also ensure that everyone is being held accountable for working up to standard, including leaders. The idea sounds simple enough, but it can be quite the task to implement.

Components of LSW

1. Auditing:

  • Your front line is the start of your standard work tasks. The supervisor starts a LSW cycle by verifying direct reports from the front line.
  • Supervisors then can report to their superior or director. The director’s standard work entails the verification of work tasks completed by the supervisor. From there, the director is able to report back to their superior or administrator.
  • The administrator reports to their superior and so on.
  •  This creates an interlocking layer of accountability, laying a foundation for sustainability.

2. Expectations

  • Define outcome metrics that indicate the department is achieving success.
  • Assign the characteristics and attributes to a process that help achieve the desired outcomes for success.
  • Define the behaviors that help achieve those outcomes.
  • Have controls in place to ensure the desired behaviors are present every day, in every situation.
  • Determine how you as a leader will verify these expectations are being met.

3. Tasks

Three categories of leadership tasks include:

  1. Scheduled tasks- puts the appropriate audits in place to verify disciplined adherence to the process
  2. Unscheduled but predictable tasks- ensures adherence to service level targets
  3. Unscheduled and unpredictable tasks- ensures adherence to service level targets and does not interrupt already scheduled tasks.

 Moving Forward

Implementing Leader Standard Work requires a culture change within the culture. It truly takes dedication and true leadership skills to be successful at it. However, the end result is in many cases is the key to sustaining other Lean methods that lack the checks and balances that LSW provides.

Once you have laid groundwork and developed the right mindset, the rest will fall into place. Established standardized routines keep goals in focus and more obtainable than before, especially with the use of visual tools to remind you. The use of visual tools to highlight the required minimum standard of work will enhance motivation. When everyone is able to see the standardized tasks, accountability becomes that much more important.

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Gemba Academy Training Review

4 min read

Gemba Academy Review

How do you really know which online training course is best for you and your organization? There is an abundant amount of literature, DVDs and websites out there that claim to be the “best” way to introduce or keep you on the path to continuous improvement, but how to you really know which one is best for you? I have recently heard a lot of good things about Gemba Academy and their online training program for Lean and Six Sigma. Gemba Academy offers a free three day trial period into their school, so I decided to see for myself what they were all about.

Designed With Lean In Mind

My first impression of Gemba Academy after opening up their homepage was how clean and professional it looked compared to other sites I had been on. It’s hard for me to take a training site serious, especially one that promotes Lean and Six Sigma, that are cluttered and hard to navigate. Right away, I got the feeling this site was going to be a breeze to navigate through and find what I needed efficiently. First impression–very impressed!

Gemba Academy Screen ShotAfter taking a quick tour through the site, I was able to easily navigate back to the home page and sign up for a free preview account. It was one of the easiest “free trials,” I’ve ever signed up for. They required minimal information, there was no having to remind myself later to cancel and best of all, no credit card number was required. I immediately jumped into the training videos and was surprised at the amount of content I had access to under the free preview.

The content drew me in right away. After scrolling through the list of videos, I was pleasantly surprised with the length of each video. The majority of the videos are less than ten minutes, allowing you to soak in more content in less time–efficient if you ask me! There’s not a lot of flare and overwhelming graphics, just good information in a nice tight package. Did I mention they’re all in high definition?

Short Videos=Less Waste

Gemba Academy is broken into two sections depending on your focus (or you can do both), School of Lean and School of Six Sigma. Each one is broken into categories that are then broken down into specific categories. I liked the fact that each category begins with an overview video to introduce the subject matter. This allows you to get your feet wet before diving into the specifics, which again let me point out are short, efficient and to the point!

I really can’t stress enough how important that is. Long lectures and drawn out how-to videos have been proven time and time again to be ineffective learning tools. Short, to the point visual learning tools are much more effective for individuals attempting to learn a new subject, all the way up to the expert who wants to continue with their education.

More Than Just Training Videos

Gemba Academy Screen Shot of QuizWithin each school’s sites are access to plenty of other videos from established experts in their respected fields of Lean and Six Sigma. The ability to have expert opinions like the original Lean Guru himself, Mr. Masaaki Imai, Mark Graban, Mike Wroblewski and Mark Hamel to name a few, is a big bonus and a nice break from the training modules. In the School of Lean there’s even some older footage they received from the Kaizen Institute (also a partner of Gemba Academy) that might seem a little dated at first, but really adds some nice timeless content to their library. There is also a nice mix of interviews in the content with experts from various companies, including the originator, Toyota.

There’s even a good assortment of quizzes attached to specific topics that allow you to go back and gauge what you’ve learned along the way. The quizzes are short, but in depth enough to keep you focused and inline with the main points the video(s) were trying to make. Online quizzes can be sometimes difficult to navigate and get through. I did not find this to be the case with the Gemba Academy quiz format. They were nicely laid out and even provided be with a score at the end to see how well I did.

Bang For Your Buck

Gemba Academy has a few different packages to choose from. They have specific rates for individuals and another rate for organizations. A big benefit to the organization package is that it’s site based. Meaning, when an organization purchases a package the entire organization has full access to their subscription from anywhere, to anyone within your sites location, at any time. If you are a multi-site location they do offer discounted package rates that would give you the same access across your entire enterprise.

Each membership offers you full access to the Gemba Academy library in your package on any computer, tablet and smartphone with Internet access. However, if you prefer DVDs, they have discounted rates for those as well.

All Products Include:

  • Purchase additional current and future DVDs at discounted pricing
  • Quizzes and support files
  • HD quality (1080p) videos
  • Subtitles in multiple languages
  • Mobile device access -iOs4+, Android
  • Reliable access via worldwide server network
  • Virtual support and coaching (email/phone)
  • Learning pathway plans

From the ground up, Gemba Academy is out to build and improve on a better Lean and Six Sigma world. There is not a lot of frills and extras that slow the learning process down, just good content built with the same concepts they preach. In fact, the entire process is designed with Lean in mind, from how they’ve built their site, how they approach the training modules, down to the actual production of the videos.

There is no limitation to the content, from beginners to experts, there is something to help you in the continuous improvement process and it’s not all about the manufacturing industry either. Many of their clients come from a variety of fields and are seeing major benefits, as seen on their testimonials page.

Don’t just take my word for it, the free trial is good for three days. Which is plenty of time to get you through the site and decide for yourself if it’s something that can benefit you or your organization.

The mission of Gemba Academy LLC is to provide high quality online video training for individuals and groups. By leveraging leading edge technologies such as high definition (HD) video delivered via a global network of servers on high bandwidth connections, we can deliver high quality training, on demand, anywhere in the world.

-Gemba Academy

Gemba 101

3 min read

Gemba (sometimes referred to as genba) has become one of the most commonly used words in the lean vocabulary, right up there with Kaizen and 5S. The gemba 101adoption of Gemba principles into your lean culture has the potential to add numerous benefits to your continuous improvement. It’s recent rise in lean fame has come with some confusion and misinterpretation as well. As with any lean principle, it is important to fully understand the term and procedures that go along with it. That way when someone says “I’m going to the gemba,” everyone knows exactly what they mean.

What is Gemba?

The term gemba means “the real place.” It’s purpose is to get you to the exact location where action is taking place. This could be your factory floor or your kids soccer game, the point is you are at the scene of the action and can have a first hand account of the action taking place. It can also be referred to as the place where value is created. However, it takes a lot more than a good set of eyes to incorporate gemba into your lean strategies.

The gemba approach should always include the following:

  • The observer must have a rooted curiosity in the action to understand what is really going on. If you just assume or develop opinions based off what you’ve heard then the value is lost from the gemba. You must have a strong desire to know what is going on.
  •  Have a direct observation of how the work is performed. To understand the gemba, you have to be in the gemba. The goal of gemba is to fully understand the gemba behaviors and the current reality of the situation more clearly, from a direct observation.
  • Respect others and strengthen the culture. Gemba requires direct interaction with employees as they work. This can easily cause tension between upper management and employees if the employee feels uneasy about being observed if done incorrectly. However, to get the full value of gemba one must engage themselves with the employee directly while they work, not from a distance. Keeping an equal respect for everyone should be commonsense, especially in the gemba.

Going to the Gemba

Once you understand the gemba approach then you can move on to the actual process. The following steps will help you along your gemba path to success and make going to the gemba one of the most powerful lean tools in your tool box.

1. Know your purpose: If you don’t know why you’re there, then there’s no point in being there. Wondering around without a purpose is counter-productive and provides no benefit to your organization. It should also be noted and clear that gemba is NOT Management by Walking Around (MBWA). The 1980’s concept lacks the principles and purpose that gemba offers.

  • Before you go to the gemba ask yourself these questions: Why am I going to observe? What am I trying to learn? When you have the answers, you’re ready for the gemba.

2. Know your gemba: Each gemba is unique in its own way and should not be categorized into a single unit. Remember, a gemba is the exact location of an activity as it is performed that you wish to study. Chances are you have several different points of action in your organization and they should be approached as such.

3. Observe the framework: Good observation skills are hard to come by, but essential to the gemba. Observers often overlook a step or a part of the process that will hinder the improvement process later as they review their notes. It is important to take everything in all the components that make up the gemba from the equipment, to the people, to the material. A good observer is able to analyze everything as individual components, but also understand how they work together as part of the flow of operations.

4. Validate: Never assume that what you see is the actual representation of reality. There are things that you can’t see, like the thought process of the worker as he overcomes a specific challenge in the process. To get the full value of your observation you have to validate your conclusions with the person you observed. This opens up the dialogue and is a way to ensure both parties have a good grip on the current reality.

As the lean movement continues to grow so will the ways we try to innovate and improve the process. The important thing is to not get ahead of yourself. It might all be about continuous improvement and eliminating waste, but if you haven’t mastered one step before going to the next, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Gemba embraces the skills of your entire organization. It’s a powerful culture building component of lean that can have a tremendous impact on your improvement process –when done correctly.