Shingijutsu Kaizen Seminar – Day 3

Yesterday I told you the plan for today. Here is what really happened.

We got the even pitch going for a while. I was at the front of the line releasing units down the line as the pre-build Team Member was done with them. I was watching distance (since distance = time on a moving line). As the previous unit hit the pitch first pitch line, I launched the next. One of the little discoveries was that the conveyor has a “slow spot” that really changes the speed. Oh – and that happens to be when we measured the speed yesterday. Net result? The units were actually fired down line about 10% faster than they should have been. Oops.

Next discovery? Nobody noticed. So much for this great labor bottleneck. There were line stops, but they had nothing to do with this.

In the first position, our experiment to actually present parts at the point of use cut the team members’ work cycle. How much depends on the situation. His work cycle previously varied all over the place – easily by 100% or more when he had to go look for parts and wasn’t sure where they were.

By simply stabilizing his work, we cut his cycle time to well under the takt.

We ended up not recording line stops, but on the other hand, there weren’t any actual andon calls today. That is both good news – nothing we did really disrupted things – and bad news – their system has serious issues, and none of them trigger andon calls.

The kaizen team members studying the semi-automated test operation designed and proved a work sequence that not only handled this bottleneck process, they cut it nearly in half. It can be done well under the takt time if the Team Member and supervisor don’t panic and try to work ahead. If they do, it disrupts everything for two or three units. To “pay” for this improvement, the kaizen team members shifted a (very) small amount of work to the next position down line. All he has to do is disconnect the test equipment. That gives our team member of focus the time to start the next unit right away. Disconnection takes only a few seconds, and easily fits into the work cycle of this team member.

Another sub-team worked on the sub-assembly process with similar results to the first team. By actually making sure all of the parts are present and presented well, the terrifically unstable cycle started to get consistent. There is a lot of work here, and honestly I think the best solution is to break up the sub-assembly cell and get these processes operating right next to the assembly line. There are huge advantages in information flow (they could just look upline by two units and see what they needed to start next). There are huge advantages in material conveyance – there isn’t any. Quality issues would be spotted immediately and could be addressed immediately. Lots of other advantages as well.

This evening we worked on the final report-out. Since this is a Shingijutsu event, there is a fairly rigid pattern for how these report-outs should go. The team spent until about 10:30 working on it and having it reviewed by sensei. I think we got off pretty clean in that department since I already knew the drill, coached the team on what was important plus sensei knows me from past events. I have seen draft report-outs thrown across the room in the past – not especially effective communication in the details, but the big picture, “this is not acceptable,” gets across fairly clearly. That didn’t happen this time. I think Shingijutsu as a company, is mellowing out a little. It is too hard to actually say, but time will tell.

6 Replies to “Shingijutsu Kaizen Seminar – Day 3”

  1. I happened to come across your website while doing a bit of reading on my own… I have participated Shingijutsu seminars in Japan (in a certain capacity), and find your blog fascinating.

    I do think that you’ll find a slight mellowing overall, as the senseis begin to adapt to the changing times (and attitudes of clientele), for better or worse. As I see it, as long as people are able to understand where their spartan tactics are rooted, there wouldn’t be as many problems. I suppose that it is all a matter of understanding the sense of urgency and where it came from.

  2. Thanks for reading! and thanks for the comment.

    I’ve been working with these guys on and off for about 13 years, and they have gone through a lot of transitions, some good, some not so good. My experience is (almost) uniformly positive, and I think their approach usually matches the attitude of the client and the team leader.

    I will say that I needed to do some serious morale management and spin control when one of them set fire to a kanban card on the shop floor to demonstrate his displeasure with some nuance of how they had set up the system. That team had worked very hard for months, dropped their shortages by 97%, were on a steep downward slope in inventory levels, so they were justifiably proud of what they had done – in that case, I think a suggestion or pointing out the logic flaw would probably have been more effective consultation than setting an excess inventory control card on fire.

    This particular consultant was one of the 1st generation guys, and had a reputation for the theatrics.

    But I do have to say that, afterwards, we all agreed that the entertainment value was very high. 🙂

  3. Hi Mark,

    I think that it takes a strong team with a good attitude to see the humor in some of the situations; I’ve worked with the senseis in a certain capacity for 9+ years now. In this time, I’ve worked with many senseis, have seen various ‘styles’, and have been witness to ‘lessons’ where the clients had no good takeaways…

    If the methodology that Mr. Ohno originally used to “pass on” the philosophy was better understood, then people might be able to understand the profound nature of some of the lessons that were being taught (or demonstrated?), and not take it personally.

    They would know that there is likely no true “answer”, as you outlined in the ‘Chalk Circle Cont’d’ (7/10/07) post. Instead, they would know that they should be questioning WHY the kanban card was set on fire…

    “There is still too much inventory”
    “You won’t miss the inventory that won’t be ordered with the missing kanban”
    “You have stopped improving the system, and allowed it to become permanent”
    “You have failed to link the upstream and downstream processes”

    They are all plausible answers, probably all of them being partially correct. Still, none of them are really the “answer”, but by a cryptic action of physically burning a kanban card, we are being forced to think about WHY.

    Perhaps the beauty of this style of teaching is that there can be no mistake of giving the immediately apparent “answer” without going through this questioning process first. Based on some accounts that I’ve heard from the senseis over time, Mr. Ohno would simply point at things and grunt “What?” or “Huh?” and walk away. There is no risk in someone giving you a wrong” answer if you haven’t actually asked a question in the first place, right?

    It is truly regrettable that it is nearly impossible for clients to be prepared to understand what is really being presented to them. Furthermore, in Western culture, the general tendency is to for us to take what we can from these sessions, and set aside the rest.

    In my limited opportunities to speak with KPO leaders at Japanese client companies of Shingijutsu, they’ve mentioned to me that it was often not until 10 years later that they truly “got” the sensei’s message. They tell of how the lessons that they were being taught weren’t even intelligible in Japanese; they couldn’t imagine the challenges of doing it through an interpreter!

    Just wanted to share some of my observations… Sorry for the rambling comment!

  4. While setting a kanban card on fire and shouting “Who created this fake kanban?” certainly raises questions, my preference is for teaching to be effective now rather than profound at some point in the future.

    I can accomplish the same thing by patiently asking the questions which provoke the required thought. In this specific instance, we knew exactly why we had the offending “fake” card – it was to get excess inventory under control (e.g. in compliance with the rules of kanban that state EVERYTHING has a kanban card attached). It was an excess inventory card. When pulled, it would not trigger replenishment, and thus, as we burned down the inventory to the desired level we would not have to maintain exception processes on the shop floor. Instead, “use a part, pull the card” was the rule, and everyone understood it.

    Of course the ideal condition is that there is no excess inventory above the desired kanban level, and we were heading there, but that wasn’t the starting condition.

    The team’s original solution was to maintain conventional MRP “issue” of parts until the inventory levels were at the desired level. They would have put cards on some of the inventory, but not all of it. My goal was for them to learn that, when compromise is necessary, it can be achieved within the scope of the rules. It isn’t necessary to break the rules.

    Therefore I had challenged the team, through questioning and Socratic interaction, to come up with a burn-down process that would follow the basic rules, but still accomplish the purpose.

    The result was a much better understanding of WHY consistent application is necessary for consistent execution; the true purpose of kanban cards; and a thorough enough understanding that they knew how to handle exceptions and problems within the parameters of the system vs. going outside of it and improvising something.

    At a higher level, I fully agree – when the sensei demonstrates something there is *usually* a point. This is not ALWAYS true, I have seen some of the consultants (these are not true sensei, they merely hold the title) go into theatrics as a distraction mechanism when they were confronted with something they didn’t know how to handle. The difference is obvious to knowledgeable eyes.

    As for the interpretation – yes, I agree. I know a lot of the interpreters, and I am convinced that the original Japanese is no less obtuse than the English translation. It is all to get us to think more.

    There are also “experts” out there who don’t get it at all. They are the ones who can only repeat what they have heard from their sensei, but when pressed to explain it, they too, fall back on dramatics or just repeating again with an attitude that they hold some kind of special knowledge that others just don’t get.

    This is the difference between theory and application. At some point, someone actually has to get down to the shop floor and actually try things to get them done… and get it done now. Not in 10 years. Not next month or next week. The people doing it need to understand why, for sure, but it is possible to teach them why without giving them the answers. It is counter-productive to punish their good-faith experiments vs. pushing them to gain deeper knowledge.

  5. Hi Mark,

    Sorry for the double post (dunno what happened with the first comment; must have pushed something inadvertently when editing). Upon re-reading my earlier comment, I realize how much of a sensei-apologist I had inadvertently been, especially after hearing the actual description of the incident (I personally have never witnessed anything that bad yet, knock on wood)…

    I think that your organization is blessed to have insightful and experienced people who are capable enough to help ‘pick up the pieces’ after a rampaging sensei tears the place up. I also cannot begin to understand how disheartening it may be to be on the receiving side of such behaviors in that situation.

    There have been many times when I’d cringe when I could see a sensei interaction heading South quickly, but have been powerless (in my capacity) to do anything about it… It is due to this involvement that I do my best to navigate the small grey area allowed to me, to 1) minimize/avoid ‘damage’ felt on the client’s end due to certain words/actions and 2) remain loyal to the message of the sensei.

    There are times when it is clear that a line is being crossed, and intervention and mediation are necessary. I once attempted to step in and ‘filter’ one such message, and still have the battle scars to prove it. I will continue to consider what I may be able to do in situations similar to this in the future, though the tendency seems to be that there are fewer and fewer such occasions compared to before.

    I enjoy the insight you continue to provide, and appreciate the glimpse that you give into lean implementation.

  6. Day 3

    The latter stage of assembling a compressor involves 5 set of steps in a one-piece flow:
    A. Prepare the mounting bracket and attach to a holding fixture.
    B. Hand-finish the welds and visual inspection.
    C. Submerge the compressor in water and test for leaks.
    D. Blow dry the unit and attach protective covers.
    E. Move and hang compressor on paint conveyor.

    Before kaizen, the work sequence was A-B-C-D-E with a cycle time of 452 seconds against a target takt time of 375 seconds. Steps B and C took the longest and are done serially. While the compressor is under water, Operator 3 must wait at least a minute (in accordance with posted test specifications) before the leak test could commence.

    Reflecting on the kaizen tips of eliminate, simplify, eliminate and combine yesterday, I proposed to teammates to add one piece of standard work-in-process (S-WIP) and overlap two steps. A trial run were designed and documented via standard work and combination sheets.

    The after kaizen work sequence goes this way:
    A. Same as before.
    C. Submerge “piece 1” in water tank.
    B. Finish and inspect “piece 2”.
    C. Test for leaks in “piece 1”.
    D. Dry “piece 1” and attach covers.
    E. Hang “piece 1” on conveyor.

    On the next cycle, submerge “piece 2”, work on “piece 3”, and then complete “piece 2”. Repeat.

    The line supervisor was receptive to the innovation. Three trials were run and the new method proved to work beautifully in real life and was proclaimed a success. Cycle time drops below takt time to 211 seconds. Work flow was smooth and tasks easy for the operator. This bottleneck was broken after kaizen.


    Our team sensei asked us an important question today.

    With an output of 55 units over 480 minutes (8 hour shift) for 3 people, the demonstrated work content totaled 26.3 minutes. However, our time studies showed an observed work content of 19.2 minutes.

    The sensei’s question was, “What causes the gap of 7.1 minutes?” Hmm . . . what can that be? Please think about it.

    His probing reminded me of an old adage, perhaps from Shingo, that before thinking of improving work time, first understand the difference between observed and demonstrated performance. I’ll present the sensei’s insight in tomorrow’s post.


    After a sumptuous dinner, our team started to write the final presentation according to a stringent format and exact timing. Sloppiness in work assignments is considered bad form in Japan. This sin is only exceeded by sloppiness in thinking. Our sensei pounded the standard work ideas into our head all evening. It typically took 3 revisions to get him to sign “approved” on each presentation slide. We labored way past midnight to complete the final presentations and rehearse multiple times.

    In between the morning and afternoon gemba sessions, the host company was kind enough to take us to tour their workshops with a myriad of production processes. It is getting late and tomorrow starts early. Let me report on the eye-opening plant tour in upcoming posts.

    Good night from Nagoya,
    Larry Y. Lamb

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