Note: Links to all of four Japan factory tour posts and the various lessons from those tours can be found here.
I recently returned from a week in Japan, where I toured four world-class companies as part of Gemba's Japan Kaikaku Experience. The company tour reports are here: Toyota, Saishunkan, TOTO, and an electronics company. Although each company was radically different, there were also some commonalities that can provide important lessons. Some are perhaps a little superficial, but still powerful, and others reach to the heart of lean. As part of my attempt to process and record what I've seen, and to create some plans for future action, I thought I'd try to write about some of the common themes.
Todays subject: the speed of change
Each factory I visited in Japan executed a large number of changes extremely quickly. As examples:
- Toyota production line operators escalated problems, identified root cause, and implemented solutions… within 3 takt times… about 3 minutes. It happened somewhere on their line about once a minute. They also average one suggestion per employee per month.
- Saishunkan reviewed 8,000 customer logs per day which created an average of 400 improvement suggestions per day that were handed out to improvement teams. Yes, I said per day.
- TOTO changed from assembly lines to over 200 workcells in a little over a month.
- An electronics company performs over 500 5S improvements per month.
Those examples would have been unimaginable to me if I hadn't seen them myself. Obviously there are other programs; for example Toyota also has some long-term improvement projects, but the sheer quantity of smaller changes adds up to significant improvements in productivity and quality.
In reviewing my notes I came across some commonalities that help explain the quantity and speed.
- Bureaucracy is minimal, approvals are minimal, documentation is minimal.
- A large number of small rapid improvements is preferred over a small number of week-long (or longer) western-style kaizen events.
- The process of identifying and executing change, the creation of the mindset, is sometimes more important than executing the change itself.
Toyota documents suggestions on one-page A3's… and these suggestions can still be very small compared to what we're used to: for example, moving a bin from one side to another in order to reduce arm movement by two inches. A small award is still given in such cases. It is often more important to simply have a culture that creates change, than tracking the individual changes themselves.
The key to rapid change is to reduce the endless discussions over inconsequential nuance and remote possibilities, to reduce the bureaucracy often created to track changes, and to allow individual authority to make changes. How many changes get stifled because it would take too much effort to record them? Or because the wording of a document change wasn't quite right or could be potentially misinterpreted by some small subset of the population? Or simply get what-if'd to death?
Many organizations have problems managing exception documentation that can create improvement… NCMR's, CAPA's and the like. Why does it take months and even years instead of hours or at the most, days? Generally because they sit, like excess WIP inventory, relegated to a low priority. One company had a policy: the NCMR could not be physically sat down until it was completed… it had to physically remain in someone's hands. Execution time? An hour or so. It was a "non-negotiable" if you remember what I wrote yesterday.
We need to support change and give individuals the opportunity to make it happen. This takes a level of trust, as well as a recognition and acceptance that some of the changes may not work out. If that happens, simply change again, always trying to improve. There are very, very few changes that can't be recovered from. Sometimes you have to just try it, just do it.