Ricoh Gemba Mat, the best of Ohno Circles, Gemba Walks and Employee Engagement.

Gemba Mat is an improvement tool which combines the ideas behind Ohno Circles, the Gemba Walk and enhances them through employee engagement.  I think it is incredibly effective, not just as an improvement tool but also in how it engages and develops people. I saw Gemba Mat in use at Ricoh in Telford during an IdeasUK networking event.  Thanks to Chris Nicholls from Ricoh for allowing me to share this.

The method is beautifully simple, low-cost and something I think could be used in just about any setting, not just manufacturing environments. This is how it works:

  • The whole process takes 60 minutes;
  • The observers find a good spot, and place the Gemba Mat on the ground;
  • The  observers then stand on the mat and observe what is happening in the process or activity in front of them;
  • To help with the observations there are some prompts on the mat (7 factory wastes and 5 facilities), see the attached picture;
  • Problems observed are recorded on an observation sheet;
  • There is space for a maximum of 30 observations, and the observation period lasts 30 minutes;
  • In the remaining 30 minutes the observer is tasked with resolving (closing out) one of the problems (getting a quick win I think is an important part of maintaining momentum);
  • Remaining problems are considered as part of the Ricoh suggestion scheme;
  • There are repeat visits to the area to confirm problems have been resolved or countermeasures are in place;
  • The Gemba Mat exercise can also be carried out at different times of the day or from different observation points to see what problems can be seen.

This is an incredibly effective improvement and engagement tool. The results at Ricoh speak for themselves. They have won numerous international awards for quality and innovation, including awards from IdeasUK. At Telford the results they get for employee engagement in their staff survey are remarkably good.

A few things struck me while I was observing Gemba Mat at Ricoh.

  1. Ritualisation of the Improvement Process. The act of rolling out the Gemba Mat and placing it on the floor is highly significant, a bit like a ritual. It’s almost like saying to your brain, “forget everything else, you are now going into observation mode, to look for problems, and how to solve them”. We’ve all heard about athletes and performers going through rituals or warm ups before they perform. I’m sure there is something similar going on here, all of the thought patterns for problem spotting are brought to the front of your mind when you roll out the Gemba Mat.
  2. It’s a proper tool. The best tools are the ones that just work. They are easy to use; they help you get the job done, no fuss. Gemba Mat is just that, a perfect tool for the job.
  3. People like using it. In an offline conversation one of the employees told me that they had experienced some down time the previous week, “so we just picked up the Gemba Mat and went off to look at what another team did. They found it really useful”.  This was a spontaneous act which the whole team got involved in. There were no management ‘drivers’, no external ‘push’, they just did it. If that’s not an example of people being engaged in work, I don’t know what is.

Thanks again to Chris and IdeasUK for the opportunity to see Gemba Mat in action. Follow @ChrisNicholls12 and @ideasworldwide (IdeasUK) on Twitter if you want to find out more, particularly if there are IdeasUK networking events at Ricoh, which are well worth attending.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Gemba Mat is an incredibly effective improvement and engagement tool.
  2. Like all the best tools it’s easy to use and just works.
  3. Ritualising the improvement process through the act of rolling out the Gemba Mat and placing it on the floor has an important effect on how people use the tool.

Links to other posts:

Gemba Mat in action at Ricoh. Thanks to Chris Nicholls for the picture.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

16 Responses

  1. Really interesting stuff. Its easy to only look within your own sector when looking at staff engagement, but this really does show the there’s lots we can learn about different approaches from the private sector too.

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