If you work in manufacturing, chances are you’ve heard of Gemba walks. Or have participated in one. 

But for many Americans, Gemba is relatively unknown. Gemba is a Japanese term highly regarded in manufacturing.

Gemba roughly translates to “workplace.” It refers to the place where value is created. How does this translate to fireworks?

For starters, the concept of Gemba can be applied to any environment in which value is generated. With America’s birthday tomorrow, we figured we’d gemba walk through a crowd favorite: setting up fireworks for a marvelous July 4th display. 

Gemba walks consist of three main components; observation, engagement, and improvement.  Let’s go through each of these stages and Gemba walk our way to a safe, efficient, and beautiful 4th of July fireworks display.

Observation

During a gemba walk stakeholders visit the physical spaces of their manufacturing operations. These visitors view routine functions with a new set of eyes. This helps those who are closely involved with operations identify cracks in the system that were previously overlooked. 

For firework displays, maybe Uncle Joe’s setup technique should be closely observed by Aunt Barb. As an external observer, she is more likely to notice details that Uncle Joe might miss. Maybe the foundation of his cake fireworks is feeble and could result in the box toppling. Or the roman candles are positioned in a weird angle — resulting in friendly fire. Such slight mistakes could be easy to spot to an outsider as opposed to someone who has handled backyard pyrotechnics for years. 

Engagement

When manufacturers conduct Gemba walks, they engage everyone involved in production. Engagement, however, should not be mistaken for MBWA (management by walking around). The purpose of a Gemba walk is for operators far-removed from the scene of the action to understand the goings-on of their operations. Participants should ask open-ended questions to understand why certain procedures are carried out in a particular fashion. 

Going back to our Uncle Joe and Aunt Barb scenario, an exchange between the two of them could be beneficial. Aunt Barb could ask Uncle Joe why certain fireworks are laid out in the manner he has chosen. Your cousin Greg could be inquisitive about detonation. Greg could ask Joe if he thinks lighting bottle rockets from his hand is a good idea. And you could be curious about how safety precautions are undertaken. 

Taken together, this engagement provides a holistic review of the process. The open communication leads to the third pillar of Gemba, improvement.

Improvement

Many manufacturers subscribe to the lean methodology. For some, it’s a religion. The constant focus on improvement allows manufacturers to identify waste and cut it from the value chain, allowing their productions lines to operate more efficiently. 

Gemba walks could also be used to identify where we tend to be more wasteful on July 4th. Specifically, Cousin Greg and Aunt Barb could help Uncle Joe identify the “muda” — the waste — in his production line. Perhaps it’s the brocade that takes a lot of time to set up and forces Uncle Joe to rush through the rest of the fireworks lineup. Or maybe the trubi is setup too close to the observers. 

Gemba espouses the practice of hansei — self reflection. Reflecting on how processes are performed strips them of waste and amplifies the value they produce.

Manufacturers who conduct frequent Gemba walks can foster a culture of continuous self-improvement

Holding a Gemba walk every July 4th — regarding any value-created activity (e.g. fireworks setup, barbecue, etc.) — will welcome a culture of continuous improvement regarding the celebration amongst family and friends.