This Week in Kaizen (Wk #25, 2007)

This was a particularly interesting week in kaizen-related news, so here’s a roundup:
One Thousand Kaizen Events and Counting…
Ariens Company of Wisconsin celebrated their one thousandth kaizen event this week. That’s 140 man-years of kaizen events since 2001. Great, but how many other ways can people at Ariens do kaizen? Six years of kaizen events are a good start, but kaizen events won’t be sufficient to sustain a culture of improvement for the next 40 years.
The U.S. Airforce Learns Yokoten from Toyota
News from the US Air Force website reported that SECAF visits Toyota plant for process alignment ideas:

The secretary of the Air Force and a group of senior officers recently visited the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky plant in an effort to see quality work in action.

Secretary Wynne recognized the two key parts of TPS as safety, quality, and cost savings (kaizen) and job satisfaction (respect for people).

“They are empowering their employees on the line to not only make suggestions, but they have a lot of respect for their problem solving and concepts for improvement,” he said. “I believe we have that same caliber in our Airmen and civilian workforce, and we have that same respect for their ability to identify a problem, analyze it and suggest a solution that saves us energy, resources or improves safety and quality.”

Mr. Ariens should give Secretary Wynne a call.
Fighting Complacency at Toyota
Overproduction, defective products, rising costs and excess capacity. These are things you don’t normally associate with Toyota. Yet in the space of less than a year, Toyota has gone from overtaking GM as the world’s largest automobile manufacturer and releasing the Tundra, a supposedly game-changing truck, to being asked by its board members “when did Toyota get to be a company like this?”
The Wall Street Journal reported on June 20, 2007 about Toyota’s Toyota’s New U.S. Plan: Stop Building Factories. Former Chariman Hiroshi Okuda questioned whether executives were becoming “a bit complacent” about expanding manufacturing capacity and whether each project was really “given a thorough review” with a long time horizon in mind.
The message to be dissatisfied, fight complacency, take nothing for granted, slow down and do your homework seems to have been heard by Toyota executives. As a result, the plans for Toyota’s new Tupelo, Mississippi factory are being scaled back and delayed.
A July 2, 2007 BusinessWeek article titled Staying Paranoid At Toyota describes steps Toyota is taking to avoid collapsing under its own weight as it grows and expands. The new initiative dubbed EM2 for “Everything Matters Exponentially” is
a total re-examination of product planning, customer service, sales and marketing, and even the car dealers the company doesn’t directly own
according to the article.
In the WSJ article Toyota chief Watanabe said:

“It’s time for us to strengthen the fundamentals in all areas” in the U.S., says Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe. He cites problems including rising manufacturing costs, excess capacity at some plants and quality problems.

It’s never too early to go back and strengthen the fundamentals. You hate to have to do it when you’ve got so many new plants, new products, new workers, and new managers all over the world who need grounding in these fundamentals.
Hold Toyota, Buy Nissan
Special mention is deserved for the actions of Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn (pronounced like “bone”) this week. Nissan Chief: Board to Forego Bonus Pay was the news. He and the board of Nissan will not be receiving their bonuses this year because Nissan’s financial performance was off. It’s so refreshing to hear the CEO of a major corporation being accountable. Too bad it was a Euro-Japanese company, and not an American one. Accountability is at the deep foundation of all things Lean, and we have a long way to go in the U.S.A. to be truly Lean from the top.