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Japanese problem solving systems

KZK Solutions /kzoli62/
Published by Z. Kovács in Quality · 8 June 2021
Tags: QSSanGenShugi
Problems are all around us, in business as well as in private life. So, better have an effective method at hand to deal with them. With San Gen Shugi you can solve problems in reality and even have fun doing this.

In my newsletter today, I present one of the solutions to the problem applied to the Japanese.

San Gen Shugi is a highly effective method when it comes to solving problems. So, its worth the effort of diving in a bit deeper.

San Gen Shugi consists of the following three main parts:

  1. Gen-ba : Real Place
  2. Gen-butsu : Real Parts
  3. Gen-jitsu : Reality (Real data)

Need to understand what is behind.

San Gen Shugi, what is it?

San Gen Shugi, I’ve said it already, is a problem solving method from Japan initially invented by Toyota. Translated, it means something like the philosophy of the 3 Gen or reals.

So, we’re talking about reality. And this is exactly the point where fun comes into play. No filtering, no theoretical babble, no souped-up figures, no photoshoped images, no politically correct speeches. Something works or it does not, full stop.

If you’ve ever been in a manufacturing hall and it happened to you to talk about a problem to a mechanic, you will certainly have seen the enthusiasm in his eyes that finally one of these pencil pushers got his butt down to the real life, listens intently and actually takes action and solves the problem.

Let’s have a look at these 3 reals and you will see what makes this method so unbeatable.

Genba: the real place

The first “real” is the real location, the precise workplace or area where the problem has occurred. It is really surprising, when looking at the general proceeding when it comes to solve problems, one could come to the conclusion that nearly all problems occur in meeting rooms as this is where the solution finding always take place. The poor meeting rooms have done nothing wrong to deserve this. Mostly, the problems are the people sitting in them, but this is another topic.

Act one: Go to the place where the problem really has occurred and chat with the real actors, the people who discovered it first and the people who are affected by it.

If you get the info from the production line that 2 parts suddenly don’t fit together any more, then the place where you need to go is the production line. And no elsewhere. And you must talk to the workers on the production line. What is different now, how was it before? Is it really a problem or do the people on the ground don’t even see it? Are there other things that have been changed in the same time? …

You need to do real detective work here. You will not find a real solution before you really understand what’s going on. And who knows, you could find out that there is no real problem, like in my little story above.

By the way, it is absolutely clear to me that when the real place is thousands of kilometres away then a spontaneous visit will be difficult. But there certainly is a local management team, so tell them to go to the production line. These days, there are plenty of possibilities to go life, they could show you the parts life with Skype or WhatsApp for example. The only thing they need is a smart-phone or a laptop and an Internet connection. Take “Impossible” for what it really is, just an excuse.

Genbutsu: the real thing

The second “real” is the real thing. This could be a physical metallic piece, a product, as well as a document, a procedure, a service.

When you want to analyse and understand a problem, then you’ll need – let’s stick with a physical metallic piece – a real part or better several parts.

Any reasonable person would know that a Powerpoint is not a real part. Nevertheless, because of laziness or whatever reason both are confused quite often. So, get a real part and take it to the meeting. And if the parts are too big, then the mountain needs to come to the prophet, or to the real part.

Genjitsu: the real fact

The third “real” is the real data, fact or figures and the reality of your business based on the real activities, existing methods or processes. To actually judge a problem, along with the above mentioned you’ll absolutely need this third “real” because it takes account of your real environment.

What does this mean? You’ll need to find all available figures and data about your problem. Estimates, suppositions and extrapolations are NOT real data!

So, get data, and the right ones. Not some garbage files. And certainly not something like “We never (or always) had problems with these parts.” Whether something is good or not good is just an opinion coloured by the expectations and experiences of the speaker. These are no data. I’ll give you an example.

When I ask you whether a Fiat is a good car, what would be your answer. Well, it depends. If your previous car was a Lada you would probably say “Yes, great car.” If your previous car was an Audi your answer might be slightly more depreciative, isn’t it? See what I mean? Answers like this won’t help you. On the contrary, a statement that in a survey of 1000 cars, 20 cars had their first breakdowns after 10,000 km, this can actually help you. These are data. Now, you can decide whether 20 are too many or still ok. And you can provide your management with real data for a sound decision making about the further proceeding.


Way too often problems are not solved, make themselves independent or become sincere crisis because by force of habit or for convenience we don’t deal with the reality. Sometimes it is just too uncomfortable to leave our well-tempered offices to betake ourselves out to the real, cold world.

San Gen Shugi, the philosophy of the 3 “reals”, tackles the problem exactly where it occurred and provides for a very simple approach to problem handling.

The 3 Gen are:

Genba – the real place, the precise location where the problem first occurred and where it can be observed or examined life.

Genbutsu – the real thing, product or service being or causing the problem, and

Genjitsu – the real fact, figure or data which allows to judge the problem with all it’s details and in it’s real environment.

If you’re ready to go into the reality problem solving will become a piece of cake and on top of that it’s lots of fun.

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