The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

User Gemba


Gemba is a Japanese term for “the real place” or in management terms “where the important action takes place.” The most common use of the term “gemba,” in a management context, is with respect to define where the important work is done within an organization. Deming organizations, and lean organizations, have managers that spend their time at the gemba – not behind their desks or in meetings (many do have some meetings away from the gemba, but they push to get to the gemba as much as possible).

I very much like the concept of the customer, or user, gemba. Employees need to understand how customers actually use their product or service. This understanding is gained by observing the user gemba – observing the user actually using your product or service. It isn’t enough to know how you intend that customers will use your products or services; you have to get out to the gemba of actual customer use and learn what problems your customers use your products to solve.

One obvious way to gain insight from customers, but sadly is done not in far too many organization is to have those that work directly with those using your products and services share what they learn with those designing for the organization. But still today, most organizations waste nearly all the insight they could gain from front line staff, customer support personnel, salespeople and others that deal directly with those using their products and services.

One obvious sign of how little an organization cares about customers is when they outsource customer service call centers (technical support etc.) to low cost bidders and focus on things like number of calls answered per hour instead of gaining insight into their customers. These organizations should have a dual purpose: helping the customer with their current issue and, as importantly, providing feedback to help the organization improve.

While customer support over the phone is far from seeing the customer use the product at the gemba yourself it is still a direct report on the gemba (the customer describing exactly what problem they are having). This is valuable user gemba information, even if it is significantly less useful than direct observation.

The consumer is the most important part of the production line. Quality should be aimed at the needs of the customer, present and future.

W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, page 5.

Listening to, and appreciating the voice of the customer is critical to understanding how to improve to better meet customers needs and to innovate to provide customers new solutions they might not even realize they want. It is not uncommon for the customer to fail to “voice” (speak or write) about their use of your products and services. Watching customers use your products and services lets you capture voice of the customer details that are not verbalized for you by the customer but that are available if you pay attention. A clear understanding of the actual value you provide is needed to manage continual improvement efforts.

Related: Dr. Deming on InnovationSeven steps to remarkable customer service by Joel Spolsky – Viewing the organization as a system

Categorised as: customer focus, theory of knowledge


  1. […] User Gemba by John Hunter – “t isn’t enough to know how you intend that customers will use your products or services; you have to get out to the gemba of actual customer use and learn what problems your customers use your products to solve.” […]

  2. […] customers requires a deep understanding of customer desires. Delighting customer also requires reliable processes that consistently provide excellent […]

  3. […] driven by those doing the work (decisions as close to the gemba, where the action is, as […]

  4. […] “What business are we in?”, may seem silly. But too often companies fail to keep a focus on the value they provide to customers. A disconnection from customer focus can lead to serious problems. A business needs to adapt […]

  5. […] Employees need to understand how customers actually use their product or service – Improving Processes Helps Innovation Efforts – Inspection is too late. The quality, […]

  6. […] all workers and allows them to contribute and participate in continual improvement is required. Deep understanding of customers is required. Knowledge of the likely future of the competitive marketplace is required. An understanding of how […]

  7. […] idea that the consumer is the most important part of the production line seems to still be missed by most organizations. The system view of the organization W. Edwards […]

  8. […] efficient processes back from the customer all the way through the delivery of the end product. So they can have the most innovative products, understand the customer needs fastest, […]

  9. […] Viable Product is an important concept. The idea is to learn from customers (users) using the product/service as soon as possible. Having customers direct experience available as soon as possible allows those […]

  10. […] in-house coding expertise, software developers that know the business processes (understand the user gemba), direct communication from employees to those modifying the software, coded in Ruby on Rails, the […]

  11. Data is meant to provide us insight into a more complex reality.

    This is the same idea of going to the gemba to get an accurate understanding instead of relying on your ability to imagine reality based upon some data and ideas of what it is probably like.

  12. […] But outside of these times effort should be directed at continually delighting customers. This requires an understanding gained at the user gemba (to truely understand what customers are trying to achieve and how your pro…. […]

  13. […] of the situations in which they are to be deployed. It is critical that checklists be developed at the gemba (where the real work is done) and that they are modified based on experience. A good checklist system integrates continual […]

  14. […] is critical to design the organization to maximize the potential information generated at the point where customers interact with the organization. That is not a simple thing to do in isolation (based on the current culture of most organizations […]

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