TPS Benchmarking

Toyota Production System Implementation at Japan Post, Year 4

By Jon Miller Published on January 29th, 2007

Here is an update to the story of Toyota instructors teaching TPS to the Japan Post and a partial answer to the question Toyota Botches Lean Implementation at Japan Post? posted earlier in this blog.
The following is a summary from the morning paper of the Daily Mainichi on December 29, 2006 Japan Post: Costs Still Require Kaizen 4 Years Into Toyota Way Implementation (Japanese).
The postal service did not grind to a halt over the New Year’s holiday card peak season as feared because of troubles with Just In Time implementation at Japan Post.
The article describes the post office mail sorting area as resembling a factory production line with many “work management boards” used as an application of Toyota’s “visualization” or visual management aimed at making it possible to see problems as they occur. Work has been divided up in 15 minute “units” or groups of letters and packages, and the status of these “units” is written on the boards. When delays become visible, workers can help out.
The desks used for sorting have been raised to standing height using pipe, and productivity has improved 31.3% at one branch. One of the challenges, according to the article, his how to reassign and utilize the 2,400 workers who have been freed up through 18% reduction in labor hours due to kaizen, across the 1,000 post office branches implementing JPS.
Japan Post is faced with the challenge of becoming a profitable operation prior to their privatization on October of 2007 and the “new gemba management system” called JPS (Japan Post System) modeled on the Toyota Production System was first introduced in January of 2002, led by a former Toyota executive and a team of Toyota instructors. Over 80% of the regular post offices of Japan Post have implemented JPS.
The article reports that some Japan Post employees protest to their labor union about JPS being forced upon the postal service which has a proud tradition. They view work in the post office as being different from work in automobile factories in that the day to day work has more variation, and that worker experience and intuition play a bigger part.
Viewed objectively, JPS was indeed forced upon the proud, experienced, traditional Japan Post workers. I suppose a bailout by the Japanese taxpayer would have been less disruptive to the lives and ways of these postal workers, but that’s been tried many times, and it doesn’t deliver improvement.
When Toyota was forced to develop and implement their system 50+ years ago it was forced upon them. Nobody makes drastic, painful changes when times are good. That’s the problem.
Change arrives, and does not care how much experience, pride or skill you have. If you are clinging to the rock of the past when the waves of change are beating your shores, it’s only a matter of time until you are washed away. It’s time to learn how to surf. That’s the cold, salty truth.

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