Hello from Kagoshima, Japan. Last night we stayed in a traditional Japanese style hotel. It was an experience to say the least! As cool as it was, Internet connection was not part of their offering… so I am a little behind on updates.
My other issue is my brain in on severe information overload… and we still have more plants to visit. Once I get home and review my notes I will offer far more detailed reviews. But for now, I will offer some tidbits from what I have seen and learned so far.
Yesterday, we visited a very cool company called HOKS. They are primarily focused in the electronics industry. It was actually a blast from the past for me as I got to see surface mount technology (SMT) in action once again as I spent 5 years at Motorola and 7 years at Nokia working with SMT.
While they definitely have their SMT business down, the most amazing aspect of HOKS was their 3S program. Yes, 3S. You see, they are so laser focused on the first 3 S’s (sort, straighten, and shine) they don’t worry about the last 2 as they will take care of themself, they explained, if you never stop doing the first 3! Makes sense if you think about it.
For example, employees (including the President and Managing Director) arrive to work 30 minutes early to clean and tidy up. When our bus pulled up there were people sweeping the parking lot out! Oh, by the way, coming to work early to do this 3S is completely voluntary.
Before we toured their plant the managing director asked us to please not walk on the tape on the floor (that they mark things off). He explained the workers scrub the tape clean in the mornings and us walking on it would make their job that much harder. Can you imagine? They clean the tape. This totally blew me away.
62,000 Improvement Activities
Another mind boggling number shared with us was 62,000. This is number of kaizen activities completed and documented at HOKS over a one year period!
Now, to be as accurate as possible it was explained that an event could be something as simple as reducing the number of steps a worker needed to take from one process to the next. Many of these activities were immediately implemented and didn’t require lots of effort.
Even still, this is a mind blowing number and hard to believe had it not been for our host showing us example kaizen newspapers detailing these activities!
Standing Room Only and On Wheels
A few final things about HOKS. Everyone in the plant and office works standing up, including the President and Managing Director. They explained this made them more efficient. What do you think… how would this idea go over in your office or plant?
Lastly, just about everything in the HOKS plant is on wheels. Desks are on wheels. Trash cans are on wheels. Cabinets are on wheels. The Coke machine was on wheels. Why was this we asked? Simple. They want to be as flexible as possible. If something needs to move in order to be more efficient they can easily accomplish this as it’s all on wheels.
Much is made, especially in America, about the lean pillar of respect for people. Pick up any lean book and you will see this plastered throughout it. Read this blog or any other lean blog and you will also read about this.
And while I am not saying I haven’t witnessed respect for people in Japan… I am saying these people are laser focused on results. To think anything else is just foolish.
I have also come to learn that the Japanese can be a bit ruthless when you “mess with their harmony.” I will elaborate more in coming weeks as I want to be as accurate as possible with my words.
Not so Different
Let me conclude with this. I have also learned that all is not perfect with lean in Japan.
They struggle with employees not wanting to change. And they are in a fierce battle to keep jobs in their country as Japanese companies look to China for lower labor costs. They also seem to grow tired of hearing about and being compared to the mightly TPS. Sound a little familiar to those of us living in Europe and America? It should.
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