• Joe Rizzo. Director of the New England Lean

CI Day at Gemline


On June 15th, 2017, I was fortunate to attend the Annual CI Day at Gemline in Lawrence, MA.

Gemline is the promotional product industry’s premier supplier of bags, business accessories, gifts and writing instruments. Gemline is ranked as one of the industry's largest suppliers by the Advertising Specialty Institue (ASI).

With a full in-house design team and with multiple product launches a year, Gemline is a leader in design innovation, bringing the most cutting-edge and relevant trends to the market.

The company celebrated 50 years in business in 2008 and has over 500 employees worldwide.

CI Day, or Continuous Improvement Day, provides an opportunity for twenty plus departments to showcase their work and accomplishments to fellow employees in the company and to selected invited guests.

Gemline people are engaged idea generators

The Gem Group invested heavily in a CII initiative (Continuous Improvement and Innovation) in 2002. They have continued to invest in developing their people, since that time. While they have received some help from outside consulting groups, most of their learning and development is provided by their internal resources.

As with many organizations that are working to create a culture of continuous improvement, Gemline’s initial successes began in their Operations areas. Those early successes were visible and impactful enough to give them a peek into other possibilities. By 2010 all departments in both the Operations and Administrative areas were actively participating in continuous improvement initiatives. Today everyone in every department contributes to the company’s goal of implementing an average of 50 ideas per person.

Production Control Board

After many successes, along with many failures, nearly 10,000 hours of training and development, and hundreds of thousands of dollars invested, Gemline is a much improved organization with many active and engaged associates. Gemline is an organization where everyone, every day, looks to improve their work for Gemline’s customers.

One of the most important tools for idea generation is KATA. This is also called Toyota Kata, or in Gemline’s case, the Improvement Kata, which is a structured way to create a culture of continuous learning and improvement at all levels. It is an organization’s daily habits or routines forming its "muscle memory" for continuous learning and improvements. The daily habits/routines help companies strive towards their vision, in small focused experiments.

The Improvement Kata forms the continuous improvement habits of the method. The Improvement Kata guides the learners, the teams, through a four-step process focused on learning and improving their way of working.

The purpose of the Improvement Kata is to learn more about the organization’s processes and building the organization’s understanding of how work works. With this understanding and ability to learn, the organization can improve their way of working, in small focused experiments.

The Improvement Kata has four stages:

1. Understand the Direction 2. Grasp the Current Condition 3. Establish the Next Target Condition 4. PDCA toward the Target Condition

Extensive Use of KATA

Personally, I have never seen such an engaged group of employees. I stopped at several booths and was very impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the people manning the booths. I actively listened to their stories and was very impressed with their projects and the subsequent results.

Gemline implements approximately 5,000 improving ideas per year. Since the program started in 2002, Gemline has implemented 26,500 improving ideas. This is an amazing accomplishment and is a credit to the management team for creating this culture of continuous improvement and a credit to the interest, energy, and enthusiasm of the all the employees.