One of the high points of my recent Japan excursion was visiting the Toyota factory in Nagoya. We did a factory tour and meet with Keiichi Fukunaga, the manager of Toyota's department for teaching the Toyota Production System to other companies.
One of the things we discussed was the tricks speed up the transformation to TPS.
Keiichi-san's experience is that top management and front-line workers are usually quite enthusiastic about the transformation.
For the front line, he noted, all you need is to go into their context and make some changes that are helpful to them. It is not just about efficiency but also about caring for the human side of the equation. He stressed the point that TPS should never be used as an excuse to fire people (the latter is what is called LAME – Lean As Misguidedly Executed on the www.LeanBlog.org).
For top management it should be easy to understand the TPS agenda – after all it’s translates to a better competitive position.
For middle management TPS can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. I think it is related to the fact that a lot of middle management consists of managing “waste” efficiently. Eliminating waste also reduces the importance of many of the bureaucrats. At this point he mentioned that it has taken Toyota 71 years to get to where TPS is today, so I think he was hintingat the need for patience when tranforming organisations. That also reflects our own experience in Ative.
In any case, he said, the key principle when doing transformation is to point people’s attention to the things that allow them to learn and improve.
For example, he mentioned an example from working with a company that made ashtrays for cars. They used a huge oven, bigger than the size of the conference room we met in, to do this – and it took a long time. This looked like waste to him so they had a discussion about why a room-sized oven would be necessary to make such a small thing as an ashtray. Following this line of questioning and measuring the temperature and other variables of the ashtrays in process they were eventually able to arrive at an elegant solution with a small table-sized oven and a much faster process, too.
From perspective of the ashtray company it could be seen as a big step forward – something called kaikaku – radical improvement – in some lean literature – but he really did not like this word. He said that even getting rid of a huge oven follows the principles of small step by step improvement, so even when it seems radical for the uninitiated we should call it just what it is: kaizen.
We also talked about the role of Dr. Deming and statistical process control. He said that it is very important to know this but it should not be the only tool in the toolbox. In the example just mentioned there was no need for Deming to improve the situation – it was all a matter of seeing the waste and removing it. This common sense approach is reflected in the spirit of the Toyota credo of “Good Thinking, Good Products”.
PS: For more information about the factory tour my travel companions from BestBrains have written an article here: Lean Study Tour day #3.