Kaizen Spirit (Part. I)

Publié le 15 mars 2016

By Xavier Perrin (xperrin@xp-consulting.fr)

The following story makes us understand the deep meaning of the « kaizen spirit ». This text has been written by Nampachi Hayashi when he was 70. Hayashi holds the post of senior technical executive, which is said to be the highest technical post at Toyota Motor Corporation TMC). Since being assigned to the post since 2001, Hayashi has been focusing on the development of people who can adhere to and advance the Toyota Production System (TPS). He is from the last generation of engineers to have studied under the late Taiichi Ohno, former executive vice president of TMC and creator of TPS, and the late Kikuo Suzumura, a former project general manager.

Part I. Think for yourself

About the spirit of genchi genbutsu,  and lean in services

Since joining the company in 1966, I have been involved in developing and promoting TPS with a focus on overall production site kaizen. I have worked on solving the many challenging issues first raised by Mr. Ohno and Mr. Suzumura. As a young trainee, I trained under chairman Fujio Cho, advisor Kosuke Ikebuchi, and former chairman Susumu Uchikawa of the former Kanto Auto Works. All of these people were strict, and never tried to help me by getting directly involved.

Back then, you were supposed to perform thorough checks yourself, think for yourself, and finish a job on time without relying on others. Nowadays, that kind of approach would be considered workplace bullying or neglect. However, the big difference is that my superiors would always follow up by inspecting our work. Although at the time I just felt that there was no way to escape this  » bullying », in retrospect I guess the fact that they were taking an interest actually gave me a sense of security.

In order to find the solution to a problem, the only thing you can do is patiently observe the actual situation. I was once made to stand in the same place for almost eight hours observing, which really impressed upon me the importance of thorough genchi-genbutsu — going to see something in the flesh. No matter how good a kaizen proposal is, you can never really put it into practice unless you have a proper understanding of the actual situation. Nobody is going to help you, so if you don’t get yourself involved and get people on your side, you won’t make any progress at all.

Thanks to this kind of hands-off guidance, I’m now able to get things moving in any situation I’m thrown into. Thanks to this kind of hands-off guidance, I’m now able to get things moving in any situation I’m thrown into.

TPS is not limited to manufacturing

Having been involved in a variety of projects involving hospitals, the distribution industry and even agriculture, I can say that where there is low productivity, there is always some kind of problem. If you use diagrams to visualize the flow of information and goods, you can see what’s holding up the flow. It’s also important to observe the movements of people.
If you conduct thorough observation through genchi-genbutsu to find out why the flow has stagnated or why a rhythmical movement has stopped, it soon becomes clear that things are poorly organized. The problem becomes evident when you start to envision the way things should be. You must pursue the root cause by repeatedly asking « Why? », and then devise and implement solutions to each problem. Doing this thoroughly will definitely help to reduce unnecessary work. This is true for departments involved in office-based work, such as sales and management departments, as well as for production departments.
In the wake of the global financial crisis that began in 2008, Toyota slipped into deficit after facing a multitude of problems, including problems arising from taxation systems and the overappreciation of the yen. However, Mr. Ohno created TPS back in the post-war era, when productivity in Europe and the United States was said to be eight times that of Japan. He had an unfailing belief that Japanese wisdom would win through, and created the system through a series of innovations. Considering the challenges he must have faced, we cannot use our recent difficulties as an excuse. Having gone back to the starting point in order to find new strength, Toyota has now recovered, thanks partly to the relative weakening of the yen.
Nowadays, TPS is renowned globally as the foundation of operations management. It is even covered in business administration textbooks, and countless books have been written on how to put the system into practice. On the other hand, some people seem to misunderstand TPS, believing that it is nothing more than a kaizen methodology. Many people have heard of TPS, but I don’t think that they necessarily understand what it’s really all about.
Nowadays, TPS is renowned globally as the foundation of operations management. It is even covered in business administration textbooks, and countless books have been written on how to put the system into practice. On the other hand, some people seem to misunderstand TPS, believing that it is nothing more than a kaizen methodology. Many people have heard of TPS, but I don’t think that they necessarily understand what it’s really all about.
The young people of the next generation need to know what Mr. Ohno and Mr. Suzumura were trying to achieve and what they left behind for us. I hope that my experiences can serve as an insight into the essence of human resource development and TPS.

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