Do Kaizen Like Toyota

By Jon Miller Published on May 20th, 2007

How do we do kaizen like Toyota? Just the fact that we’re hearing this question more often is a good sign that either a) there is a growing awareness about there being a right way to do kaizen, or b) Toyota’s PR machine is in full swing. We choose to believe the former.
There are many ways to answer this, and typically we ask a few clarifying questions before we do, but here are five of the most common bits of advice we give:
1. Quality follows quantity. Aim for quantity over quality when asking for kaizen ideas. There are so many things that need to be improved in any give process, but for everyone to see them it requires a “revolution of awareness” to use Taiichi Ohno’s words. When the focus is on quantity, this will stimulate thinking, raise awareness, and by necessity people will find more small problems than big problems. Solving these small problems (taking root cause corrective action) prevents larger problems.
2. Standardize how you solve problems. The best kaizen ideas are the small ones that make you feel silly because they are so simple and obvious. Many quick improvements will be “just do it” items that (seem to) require no formal process. There will be many of these in the early going and it can be tempting to believe that you are getting good at kaizen, until you hit the more challenging issues, or when the obvious quick fix doesn’t stick. This is where following a standardized approach to problem solving based on the scientific method can help keep your kaizen efforts on track. Not to be prescriptive, but the PDCA wheel is hard to beat.

3. Do kaizen in teams.
Coming up with and taking action on kaizen ideas should be a small group activity. A team of 4 to 8 people with one team leader will make much progress on these small ideas. One person may try to find one big idea, or find one but get stuck in problem solving and make no progress. Seek the wisdom of many rather than the knowledge of the few.
4. Dig deeper. The warusa kagen, or condition of badness, is like sand on the beach. Sometimes the problem seems to go away when you scratch at the surface (sand) or when the waves roll in and out (variation in the 4M conditions, or in customer demand). Dig deep enough through “5 why” and other means until the true root cause is found so that countermeasures are effective.

5. Celebrate, then move on.
Feel good about being liberators of space, working capital, people, capacity, or customer happiness through your process improvement efforts. Share this feeling with others through a variety of visual and electronic means of communication. Then do hansei for a moment (hang you head in shame) at the massive amount of remaining waste, look up and smile at the next small problem waiting to be found and removed.

  1. rob

    May 21, 2007 - 12:06 pm

    I’m still smarting from not winning the 5S competition. Never mind! I can particularly relate to point 2, which bring to mind a comment:
    “Where there is no Standard there can be no Kaizen” Ohno
    oh and by the way I’m in the process of moving and consolidating my blogs: my new link http://www.rob-thompson.net, so it would be great if you could update your blogroll from http://63buckets.blogspot.com/index.html

  2. Jon

    May 21, 2007 - 7:02 pm

    We’ll make the change to the link Rob. Look forward to seeing the new site.

  3. Rainier

    May 29, 2007 - 2:19 pm

    Question of Toyota , Lean kaizen Simply 4 Questions in work areas,
    1) What are you doing
    2) how do know what your doing is correct
    3) how do you know what you have just done is correct
    4) does anyone know the fourth question
    by the way are the first 3 questions correct , I read it sometime ago thought it was clever

  4. Jon

    May 29, 2007 - 3:59 pm

    These four questions are mentioned in Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System by Steven Spear and Kent Bowen.
    1) Ho do you do this work?
    2) How do you know you are doing this work correctly?
    3) How do you know that the outcome is free of defects?
    4) What do you do if you have a problem?
    This is a Spear & Bowen’s generalization of Toyota managements’ Socratic approach to teaching, and not necessarily verbatim quotes of the questions.
    It is a very good approach, founded in something called TWI – Training Within Industry.

  5. RC

    May 29, 2007 - 7:50 pm

    thanks for the quick response ,
    great web page and I will post again .
    your answers I believe will help me with internal auditing to make real changes

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