Functions of Supervisors in Gemba

Functions of Supervisors in Gemba

In today’s dynamic and competitive environment, management faces increasingly stringent requirements from customers who want better quality, a lower price, and prompt delivery. Only a clear management plan for improving on QCD all the time will keep up with this demand. Management must therefore keep setting higher QCD targets and challenging subordinates to attain them. As soon as a new target has been achieved, management must establish the next one, thus continuously urging subordinates along the never-ending road of improvement. Successful companies continue their success because managers lead subordinates in this manner and build a corporate culture of challenge. Such companies also know that once they lose this spirit, particularly at the gemba level, there will be no future for them. In today’s companies, whether or not management possesses a spirit of challenge makes the difference between success and failure. Such a spirit of challenge should be the backbone of gemba.

However, a majority of managers today have lost the enthusiasm to challenge. In particular, many gemba supervisors settle for trying to maintain the status quo and working hard and loud and running around throughout the day without having any clear idea where they are going. Setting challenges is the key element of a successful supervisor’s job. The supervisor must possess sufficient understanding of the current process to establish appropriately challenging targets.


As stated earlier, managers’ jobs boil down to two major functions in gemba: maintenance and improvement. Maintenance refers to preserving the status quo—that is, to make certain that subordinates follow current standards to achieve expected results. The objective of maintenance—to making certain that things do not go out of control—takes a lot of effort. Without maintenance, everything in gemba will deteriorate over time.

Improvement, meanwhile, refers to enhancing and upgrading current standards by continually establishing new and higher targets. Improvement can be further broken down into KAIZEN™ and innovation. Simply stated, KAIZEN™ means making better use of the existing internal resources of the five M’s of manpower, machines, materials, methods, and measurements. KAIZEN™ is accomplished by changing the way people do their jobs rather than by spending large amounts of money. It takes a challenging spirit to bring about kaizen, as people are always more comfortable with the way they have been doing their job in the past. I believe that a surfeit of resources has unforeseen drawbacks:

There is no impetus for kaizen; no incentive to rack our brains and look within for ways to improve—and before we know it, the competition has passed us.

In the context of KAIZEN™ philosophy, supervisors’ jobs should also be broken down into two functions:

  1. maintenance, the task of stabilizing and preserving the current process, and whenever an abnormality is detected, bringing the process back under control; and
  2. improvement, which is as important as maintenance. In the improvement function, management must check to determine whether supervisors have attained management-imposed targets.

Maintenance is sometimes referred to as “daily activities” and improvement, as “KAIZEN™ activities.”

Supervisors must carry out all these activities in order to realize QCD. The real challenge for management is to manage quality, cost, and delivery simultaneously. Supervisors should not confine their concern to meeting production volume nor sacrifice quality and/or cost to meet those production targets. The supervisor in gemba should always strive to realize QCD by attaining targets set by management and demanded by customers. The properly trained Japanese supervisor participates in policy deployment by always keeping in mind two or three annual targets for kaizen, such as halving rejects and reducing inventory. In the process of assuming responsibility of this kind, supervisors come to regard themselves as members of the management team—in spirit, if not in fact.

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