A Look at “Go and Observe”

A Look at “Go and Observe”

by Ken Snyder


Soon after publishing the Shingo Model over 10 years ago, we developed workshops to teach the Model. At first, the workshops were classroom-only experiences. We soon tested the idea of “go to gemba[1] as part of the workshop. We quickly realized that including “go to gemba” was a far superior teaching method. Since then, we include a “go to gemba” experience in all workshops and build an experience about each of the 10 Shingo Guiding Principles.

At first, we called these experiences “Go See” or “Go and See.” We refined the terminology based on the advice of Ritsuo Shingo, the son of our namesake, Dr. Shigeo Shingo. Mr. Shingo was an executive at Toyota for over 40 years and expressed concern over the terminology of “Go See” or “Go and See.” He said that many people come to “see” the Toyota Production System without ever learning anything because they don’t spend enough time there. Mr. Shingo referred to these visitors as “industrial tourists,” distinguishing them from serious “students.” He suggested we change the title of these experiences to “Go and Observe” to which we agreed, and this change was made 3-4 years ago.

In the Shingo Model booklet, we use the following definition:

“Direct observation is a supporting principle tied to scientific thinking. It is, in fact, the first step of the scientific method. Direct observation is necessary to truly understand the process or phenomenon being studied. All too frequently, perceptions, past experience, instincts and inaccurate standards are misconstrued as reality. Through direct observation, reality can be seen, confirmed, and established as consensus.”[2]

What are the Objectives of Go and Observe?

We have identified many purposes accomplished through Go and Observe experiences.

  • Go and Observe allows for the observation of the gaps between actual behaviors and ideal behaviors, as informed by each of the Shingo Guiding Principles. As an example, go and observe whether or not behaviors demonstrate respect for every individual, whether or not leaders lead with humility, whether or not the behaviors are aligned to performance, etc.
  • One of the Institute’s Three Insights of Enterprise ExcellenceÔ is “Purpose and Systems Drive Behavior.” Go and Observe allows for verifying the effectiveness of the systems – are the systems really driving behavior toward ideal?
  • Go and observe the place where the work happens; this is where problems are identified and solved.
  • Go and observe the place where the work happens; this is where and how waste is identified and so on.

Is This a Principle?

We define a principle as a truth that is universal (true everywhere), timeless (true in the past, present, and future), and one with consequences associated with either following it or not.

  • Universal? We have observed Go and Observe activities in over 30 different countries around the world and in many different industries. In every instance, the learning experience is better thanks to the Go and Observe activity. Yes, this applies universally.
  • Timeless? It’s now been a decade since adopting Go and Observe activities into our workshops. It’s just as true now as it was then. We are convinced that it was true in the distant past and will continue to be true in the future.
  • Consequences? The consequences of following or not following this activity are clear. We have observed through several Shingo Prize assessments over the years that the objectives mentioned above can be accomplished through Go and Observe activities and cannot be accomplished without Go and Observe activities. 

Go and Observe definitely fits the criteria to be considered a principle of operational excellence.


The concept of “Go and Observe” ought to be integrated into every one of the Shingo Guiding Principles.

[1]「現場」in Japanese. This term has become common in the business world, primarily due to the works published about the Toyota Production System (TPS). The most common way of translating this term into English is “shop floor” or “workplace,” but we render this term as “gemba” since the term has become common in English. In the context of the Shingo Model, the meaning of gemba is “the place where things are actually happening.”

[2] Shingo Model booklet.

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