Agile is Genchi-Genbutsu: Go, See and Confirm

by Avienaash Shiralige

Genchi-Genbutsu is the Japanese expression for a practice of finding your answers right down at the source, rather than relying on second-hand reports or charts of data to achieve true understanding. This practice emphasizes going to a place(gemba) where you watch, observe and ask “WHY” five times. I shared few posts earlier on 5 Whys.

Most of the time we are hidden in our project plans and design documents to find root causes. Traditional methods assumed that having a great plan and good documentation is the secret to project success. They alienated themselves from implementation and real world.

Agile Go See and Confirm.

Agile, on the other hand, believes in delivering some thing early on to confirm our understanding. It inherits the expression Genchi-Genbutsu.

For example:

  • Working software is a way of confirming your product
  • Sprint retrospective is a way of confirming your process.

Does it work? What is working? What we should do to make it work?

“Gemba attitude” reflects the idea that whatever reports and measures and ideas are transmitted to management, they are only an abstraction of what is actually going on in the gemba to create value.

Few anti-patterns that you see often:

  • ScrumMaster sitting in a cabin rather than sitting with the team. Not having Gemba attitude
  • Team and management working on a problem manifestation rather than finding root cause

You actually do a sprint, observe patterns and anti-patterns to find actual reasons. Curious folks will not spend time on creating a long plan or documents and sit on it for few months. They’d rather want to go and explore to find the truth by actually implementing it.

I believe we need Curious People on our Agile teams over Smart people. But, how many of us have the privilege of remaining curious after years of schooled conditioning? Take a look at the TED talk by Ken Robinson, in which he asserts that schools do not allow creativity to thrive.

I have come to understand this in my home-schooling  journey with our daugther – that Learning is NOT locked up in books (and, for that matter – in documents or in Project Plans). Why, then, do we see learning separate from living?

About Avienaash Shiralige


Avienaash Shiralige is an Agile Coach, Trainer, Business Optimisation and Agile Transformation Consultant @ AgileBuddha. He has been on senior leadership positions in various companies and comes with very rich 17+ years of experience in product and service companies. He has consulted companies in India, US, Europe and Australia on Agile/Scrum/Lean/Kanban and successfully set-up various distributed agile teams across timezones. He can be reached at avienaash@gmail.com.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Linders December 19, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Fully agree! This is the way I work with agile teams and their managers, and also what I stimulate and reward from professionals in the organizations that I work with.

Attend a couple of agile practices, and you will see how they are doing, and be able to help them further improve. Ask them to reflect and learn, not only in retrospectives, but also during stand-ups, planning games, pair programming or any other occasions where team members collaborate.

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Avienaash Shiralige December 20, 2012 at 10:08 am

True. Every ceremony is time to reflect and learn. Learning is not limited to Retros only.

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Ravi January 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Fully agree with the point that curious minds would search for root cause and kill the possibility of the problem once and for all. Smart problem-solving approach may provide quick interim solutions to clear the blocks and ‘just move on’, but may not prevent the issue from cropping up again….

Genchi-Genbutsu would provide insight into the root causes.

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Tarun Sapra January 9, 2013 at 5:04 pm

While I completely agree with the “Gemba attitude” described in the blog, but I Don’t agree with the Ken Robinson’s TED talk, his use of flattery and humor surely adds charisma to the talk but doesn’t provide clear solution to the problem at hand.
A very accurate and strong rebuttal to Ken’s talk – http://edtechnow.net/ken-robinson-rebuttal/

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