Nagoya Japan Lean Tour

What I learned from the Japan Lean Tour

Last month I was in the Nagoya Japan Lean Tour organized by the Paul Akers, the owner of the Fast Cap company located in Washington. As part of this tour I got a chance to visit several different companies, one of which was the Toyota Plant. Here I will provide a few quick observations of what I learned from this Lean tour.

Precision vs sloppiness

Japanese workers are very precise at doing routing work. No sloppiness is allowed. The precision with which they work leads to an increased productivity, more predictability and the production of excellent quality. Workflow is established and everyone always follows it. There is no reason to reinvent it or to ignore it.

To avoid the delivery of a wrong part an employee at the Mifuno triple checks – twice by number and once visually before sending it to Toyota. Do you think this is a waste of time? Well think about how much your and your customer’s time and money is wasted when a defective or wrong product leaves the facility needing to be replaced shortly after.

These processes are not written in stone and are improved upon continuously in order to be more effective.

Continuous Improvement

“Re-improve what was improved for further improvement.” – Taiichi Ohno

Continue to improve on every level to eliminate waste. Continuous improvement is a big part of Japanese working culture. Everyone is involved in a continuous process and product improvement. How deep does the continuous improvement go? One step = one second = one cent.

One step = one second = one cent

“Valueless motions are equal to “shortening one’s life”” – Taiichi Ohno

One step = one second = one cent is how Toyota thinks about their continuous improvement. The target for continuous improvement is to eliminate every single step, every second of delay and by doing that saving one cent. By chasing the small you will catch the big.

Small improvements NOW are better than big improvements later

“Do anything immediately. Starting something “right now” is the only way to win” – Taiichi Ohno

Focus on small improvements. These types of improvements give you feedback much faster and bring value to you much faster. The value itself may not be so big or visible but it is very cheap so it doesn’t required a big investment. Use whatever you can to improve. Do not plan a big improvement project that may or may not be implemented half year later if at all.

Be leader not a manager

“The “workplace” is a teacher. You can find answers only in the “workplace”” – Taiichi Ohno

Toyota leaders are literally working with their team on the floor in order to improve the process and make their life easier. This is done through continuous improvement. This is why the last time there was a strike at Toyota was in 1950. The working day of Mr Amezawa, the former president of the Toyota Kentucky Plant, was ten hours long. First hour was dedicated to admin stuff. The following eight hours he worked on the floor with other team members on the necessary improvements. And he spent his final hour on the admin stuff once again. He would have only three one-hour meetings each month, each concerning:

  • Cost
  • Quality
  • Safety

Working side by side with your people, showing them “your back” (showing that you’re always working) and helping them to achieve their target that’s what leaders at Toyota do.

Mr. Amezawa demonstrates what it means to be on the floor with your team

Mr. Amezawa demonstrates what it means to be on the floor with your team

Mr. Amezawa demonstrates what it means to be on the floor with your team

Intense focus on quality. Quality means survival

Mafino is a tier two Toyota supplier. The company produces 100 million parts a year out of which only 35 are defective. The company’s target is zero defective parts. Toyota dictates their product prices and the process the suppliers have to follow. The only way to be profitable for these companies is to eliminate waste continuously.

827 days without a single defect.

827 days without a single defect

827 days without a single defect

Team work

“We are Toyota”, I heard this phrase many times from many people who had stopped working for Toyota many years ego. People had dedicated their lives working for the Toyota corporation. They are all really proud of what they did. All our DoJo trainers were over 70 years old but were still working. So we asked them why? “We are healthy and we LOVE what we do ” was their answer.

Mr. Ishigaki and Mr. Fujii are sitting from left and right

Mr. Ishigaki and Mr. Fujii are sitting from left and right

Mr. Ishigaki and Mr. Fujii are sitting from left and right

Big eyes and ears

When you happen to go on a trip like this you have to have big eyes and big ears. Every small detail you can catch by observing and listening will tell you a great story about the Japanese work culture. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been there before there is always something that you had never heard or had seen before. Never be satisfied; you will always find something new to learn.

No Excuses

“First say “I can do it”. And try before everything” – Taiichi Ohno

They attack each problem without any excuses. They never say we can’t do this because of this or that. One of the task Mr. Amezawa had given his engineers was having no loud sounds at their assembly line. Their first response was “it’s impossible”. “No Excuses” Mr. Amezawa said. I can confirm that I heard almost no sound at the Toyota Plant. Mr Amezawa had previously learned from his boss who had asked him to bring 300 improvement ideas the next day. The day before, Mr Amezawa only had 30 ideas. He had worked the entire night and by the following morning he had created 300 improvement ideas.

Everything starts with courage

We have to focus our people on intrinsic not extrinsic motivation.

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to” – Richard Branson

Work for your customer or how much the product cost

Every product costs as much as a customer is willing to pay for it. I’m hearing many voices now saying all customers want my product for free. My answer would be I developed something nice because my customers want to use it but not good enough that they willing to pay for it. How about profitability you may ask? It is our main responsibility as product developers to make this product production profitable. How? By removing waste.

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