Genchi Genbutsu is a key concept at Toyota and the Toyota Production System; it means “go and see for yourself.” Lean Principles Go and See: Genchi Genbutsu and Toyota Sienna is an article showing how Genchi Genbutsu was applied in the making of the Toyota Sienna Van. Another way to think about this is good, qualitative observational research.
While doing some research on user-centered design for a class I teach at BYU, I came across a fascinating article on Toyota with an excellent example that shows how Genchi Genbutsu is way of doing business at Toyota. Below is a excellent example of how Toyota applies this principle in their everyday work (Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 24, 2003):
When Yuji Yokoya received the assignment to serve as chief engineer for the second-generation Toyota Sienna, he decided to drive across North America in order to experience the highways his minivan would be driven on. Like his colleagues, Yokoya is a believer in the Toyota engineering tenet: “genchi-genbutsu,” which means: “go, see and confirm.” Yokoya drove a current Sienna more than 53,000 miles, crossing the continent from Anchorage to the Mexican border, south Florida to Southern California and all points in between.
Crossing the Mississippi River by bridge, he noted that the Sienna’s crosswind stability needed improvement. He observed excessive steering drift while traversing gravel roads in Alaska, and the need for a tighter turning radius along the crowded streets in Santa Fe. Driving through Glacier National Park, he decided the handling needed to be crisper. He also made an all-wheel-drive option a priority, along with more interior space and cargo flexibility.
Finally, he decided that the new Sienna would have to be a minivan that families, and especially kids, could live in for extended periods of time. Upgrading seat quality became a priority, along with “kid friendly” features such as a roll down window for second-row passengers, an optional DVD entertainment center and a conversation mirror so parents could monitor what was going on in the back seat.
“The parents and grandparents may own the minivan,” Yokoya said, “but it’s the kids who rule it. It’s the kids who occupy the rear two-thirds of the vehicle, and are the most appreciative of their environment.”
This is an amazing example of stepping in the shoes of the customer — their environment, space, and experience. It is no wonder that Toyota is the number one car company — and, arguably, number one company — in the world.
Genchi Genbutsu and Ethnography
Genchi Genbutsu is much like a concept in cultural Anthropology called Ethnography. Ethnography is stepping into the environment and space of the customer — to see how they interact with the object or with their environment. Chief Engineer Yokoya did this — some might argue to the extreme — but it clearly shows his and Toyota’s commitment to good design and to the customer.
For more on design and Ethnography, please visit these articles: