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“Gemba, 1,2,3” – 3 Steps to conducting a Gemba

Aug blog post

Gemba 1, 2, 3 … While this may sound like steps from my cha cha class, it’s actually a description of the three-step process used to implement a Gemba. A Gemba is an innovative market research tool used at the start of the new product development process.  It helps Marketers identify need gaps and “pain points” in accomplishing a task or using a product category.  Those need gaps are the starting point for new product development.

The first thing you do in the Gemba process is identify the major types of occasions or settings when your product category is being used. Next you train your colleagues  in how to interview and record the results, and schedule the Gemba interviews with appropriate target consumers.

You are then ready to follow the three-step process that Fujio Cho, chairman of Toyota, articulated: “Go see, ask why, show respect.” Let’s look at each of these steps .

1. Go See. You are in the consumer’s life, at the moment of use.  It’s critical to know what to look for!  The advice “go see” or “observe carefully” is useless without some guidance:

Ask a lot of “what” questions. What exactly is the person doing? What’s the process he is going through? What are the explicit steps he is taking when it comes to using this product? What is he trying to achieve? What matters to him about this process?

You record key aspects of what you are hearing and seeing (may include facial expressions, for example)

2. Ask why. In this second step, you ask why he takes each step, why it is done that particular way, how it impacts whatever comes next, or flows from whatever happened before. At this phase, you may also be asking some questions about what else he’s tried; how that works/doesn’t work; what if the product was different in some relevant way; what impact would that have; why not do XYZ (based on your observations so far) and why that wouldn’t work. All these are ways to understand exactly what this person is trying to accomplish, and how the product(s) he’s using contributes to that process.

Keep in mind:  wait to start the “why” step until after the “what” phase is completed because once you jump into why, the conversation may change substantially.  The consumer may become more sensitive and thoughtful about what he is doing, thus skewing your results.

3. Show respect. Your consumers are sharing sometimes very intimate aspects of their lives. They are being vulnerable; and at some deep unspoken level, they may fear an Interviewer will laugh at them, or say to himself, “This is how this thing works, you dummy!”

It is the obligation of the Interviewer to respect the consumers’ vulnerability and to meet them with humility, candor, and a true interest in their lives. Your respectful attitude will serve you well as your respondents will open up to you and will give candid and helpful responses.

Getting started.  When you want to use Gembas to kick off new product development, you will train a group of your colleagues using the three-step process outlined above.  This is crucial – you will train them in how to record what they have learned. Unless there is a systematized, succinct way to break down that activity into key actions, pains experienced, solutions sought, etc. you won’t be able to fully capitalize on this effort. It’s critical your team buys into the idea that not only will they conduct these interviews, they will then distill their observations into a pre-set form to capture the information. What that form looks like is a separate topic for another day.

Interested in learning more about Gembas and how this approach can add depth and richness to your early stages of new product development? Contact me today at or (805) 497-9090.

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