“No Question…Sketch!”

One of the more famous tools taught by Chihiro Nakao of Shingijutsu fame is to direct the learner to observe an operation and “sketch the flows.”

Another Time Ideas article by Anne Murphy Paul, How to Increase Your Powers of Observation, validates Nakao’s instinct.

She makes the distinction between casual observation that we all do, and scientific observation.

[…]scientists train their attention, learning to focus on relevant features and disregard those that are less salient. One of the best ways to do this is through the old-fashioned practice of taking field notes: writing descriptions and drawing pictures of what you see. “When you’re sketching something, you have to choose which marks to make on the page,” says Michael Canfield, a Harvard University entomologist[…]  (bold emphasis added)

The common factor here is that, like scientists, we don’t want to simply watch a process, we want to observe it. We want to predict what we think will happen, and then observe to confirm or refute our predictions.

While casual observers simply sit back and watch what unfolds, scientific observers come up with hypotheses that they can test. What happens if a salesperson invites a potential customer to try out a product for herself? How does the tone of the weekly meeting change when it’s held in a different room?

The next time you are in your work area, rather than simply watching, bring a bad and pencil, and sketch out what is happening.

How does the material actually flow through the process? Where does it pause, stop, get diverted?

How to people flow, move into, and out of, the process?

Where does the information come from?

Does the layout support, or get in the way of, smooth flow?

How about the tools, equipment, machines? Do they help the worker get the job done, or make it awkward?

And finally, what actually happens when there is a problem of some kind? How does the team member indicate this? What is the response?

By sketching, you force your eye to see the details that you might have missed. You force yourself to actually see, and might be surprised when that is different from what you assumed was happening.

Sharpen your eye – learn to observe like a scientist.

No question… sketch!

How The Sensei Teaches

In a previous post, I talked about Steven Spear’s observation about how a sensei saw a process and the problems. Jeffery Liker, Mike Hoseus and David Meier have done a good job capturing how a sensei teaches and summed it up in a diagram in the book Toyota Culture. (for those of you following at home, the diagram is figure 18.9 on page 541).

I want to dissect this model a bit and share some of the thoughts I had.

This is the whole diagram:

How a sensei teaches

This diagram strikes me in a couple of ways.

Let’s zoom in to the left hand side.


I’m calling the part I’ve highlighted in red the “sensei do-it-loop.” That is, the sensei says “Do this,” the students do it, then the sensei says “Now, do this.” Repeat.

While this first loop is the starting point, all too often, it is also the ending point.

And in this loop, process improvement actually happens, everybody applauds at the Friday report-out. The participants may even prepare a summary of key learning points. And perhaps, as follow up, they will apply the same tools in a similar situation. (As much as I hope for this outcome, though, it doesn’t happen as often as I would like.)

A lot of consulting engagements go on this way for many years. Some go decades. I am sure processes improve, and I am equally sure it is very lucrative for those consultants. But even if they are extraordinarily skilled at seeing improvement opportunities and pointing them out, these consultants are not sensei in the meaning of this diagram. That distinction is made clear in the next section.

This is where the learning happens.

Sensei Learning

I have highlighted the learning loop in red.

The sensei is primarily interested in developing people so that they can see the opportunities and improve the processes themselves. He wants to move them along the continuum from “Do” to “Think” so that they understand, not only this process, but learn how to think about processes in general. When the sensei asks the questions, he is forcing people to articulate their understanding to him. He is really saying “teach me.” In this way he pushes people to deepen their own understanding from “think it through” to “understand it well enough to explain to someone else.”

Think about Taiichi Ohno’s famous “chalk circle.” The “DO THIS” was “stand here and watch the process.” He had seen some problem, and wanted the (hapless) manager to learn to see it as well. Ohno didn’t point it out, he just directed their eyes. His “test” was “What do you see?,” essentially repeated until the student “got it.”

The second leap here is from “Think” to “Self Learning.” At this point, people have learned to ask the questions of themselves, and of each other.  So when he asks his questions, the sensei is not merely interested in the answers as a CHECK of learning, he is also teaching people the questions.

These questions are also a form of “reflection.” They are a CHECK of what was planned vs. what was done; and what was intended vs. what was accomplished. The ACT in this case is to think through the process of improvement itself, not simply what was improved.

Until people learn to do this, “Self Learning” does not occur, and the team is forever dependent on external resources (the sensei, consultants) to push themselves.

But the sensei is not through. Once people have a sense of self-learning, the next level is capability to teach others. “All leaders as teachers.”

Learning to Teaching

Someone, I don’t know who, once said that teaching is the best learning. I can certainly say that my own experiences back this up. My greatest ah-ha moments have come when I was trying to explain a concept, not when it was being explained to me.

I would contend, therefore, that a true sensei is not so much one who has mastered the subject, but rather one who has mastered the role of the eternal student. It is mastery in learning that sets apart the very best in a field.

Thus the sensei‘s work is not done until he has imparted this skill to the organization.

As the leaders challenge their people to thoroughly understand the process, the problems, to explore the solutions, so do the leaders challenge themselves to understand as well.

They test their people’s knowledge by asking questions. They test the process knowledge of their people by expecting their people to teach them, the leaders, about the process. Thus, by making people teach, they drive their people to learn in ways they never would have otherwise. The leader teaches by being the student. The student learns by teaching. And the depth of skill and knowledge in the entire organization grows quickly, and without bound.

So Here Is Your Question:

If your organization is typical of most who are treating “lean” as something to “implement” you have the following:

You have a cadre of technical specialists. Their job, primarily, is to seek out opportunities for kaizen, assemble the team of people, teach them the mechanics, then guide them through making process improvements that hit the targets. This is often done over the course of 5 days, but there are variations on this. The key point is that the staff specialists are delegated the job of evangalizing “lean” and teaching it to the people on the shop floor.

Again, if it is typical, there is some kind of reporting structure up to management. How many kaizens have you run? What results have you delivered? How many people have been trained? Managers show their commitment and support by participating in these events periodically, by attending the report-outs, and by paying attention to these reports and follow-up of action items.

Now take what you have just read, and ask yourselves – “Are we getting beyond the first loop, or are we forever just implementing what is in the books?”

How are you reinforcing the learning?

Who is responsible to learn by teaching?

I’ll share a secret with you about a recent post. When Paul and I took Earl through his own warehouse that Friday night, neither of us had been in there before. While I can’t speak for Paul, everything I knew about warehouse operations and crossdocks, I learned from Earl. I didn’t teach him anything that night. Paul and I did, however, push him to teach us, and in doing so, he learned a great deal.

Team Preparation for a Shingijutsu Seminar

If you are planning on attending (or sending people to) a Shingijutsu Seminar, I have a word of wisdom: Prepare.

Just sending people cold and expecting great things from the experience will, at best, give you a fraction of the potential learning. At worst it can turn people off completely. Here is a little advice:

Read my post on “Getting a Plant Tour

Everything there applies here. Don’t be “industrial tourists.”

Groups are Better than Individuals

Even two people together are better than one alone. Not to say that an individual is going to get nothing, but when there are others to debrief the day and share learnings I think that interaction contributes a great deal to quality of the experience. It also provides a degree of insurance against the possibility of being assigned alone, or with a handful of “singles” to a large team composed of people from the same company. While that is by no means a disaster, it is probably a little easier if there is some assured mutual support rather than counting on finding it there with people you just met – and who may have their own rigorous agendas.

The Basics

It is important to have an certain level of comfort with the basics:

  1. Understand the fundamentals of standard work.
  2. Know how to use a stopwatch and a time observation sheet.
  3. Know how to build a standard work combination sheet, and what it is for.
  4. Understand what takt time is, what cycle time is (and the difference).
  5. Know how to build a work balance chart.

They teach all of these things in the first day lecture, but (trust me) the more you know before you get there, the better you will be able to follow what they are teaching.

A Theoretical Base

Once again, the more you know before you go, the better. Even if you are working a complete implementation, it works well if your team is focused on a specific aspect of learning. Since everything in the system is inter-connected anyway, this does not limit your experience, it just focuses it.

Whatever your chosen topic, have the team members to some research and study, make presentations, and generally gain a level of understanding. This will help everyone make sense of what they see and hear in Japan since they will at least have a context for it.

Touring Toyota

Generally, one of the features of these trips is a tour of a Toyota plant. The tour is the same 50 minute tour everyone gets, there is nothing special. In fact, on this last trip, we were asked to leave our Shingijutsu name tags and any Shingijutsu-specific materials on the bus – not sure why, but I can speculate.

Rather than everyone just getting the tour, here is how to make the most of it.

Assign four sub-teams. Each one is focusing on a specific aspect of what you will see.

  1. Standard work / the flow of people.
  2. Pull and the flow of materials.
  3. Tools and gadgets that make the work easier, assure quality (poka-yoke) – technical kaizens
  4. The flow of problems – the andon system and the response.

It is good to get the theoretical base in these things before you depart, so people have some idea what to expect. This is the Plan of Plan-Do-Check-Act. They are establishing a “should be happening” in their minds. Doing so will focus their observations. Whatever they see will either confirm what they think should be happening, or will contradict it. Either way, they will remember much better.

After the tour, each sub-team should debrief themselves, then report to the larger group what they saw and what they learned.

Note that this doesn’t mean that people focused on, say, kanban would ignore andon and line stops. Quite the contrary. The system is highly inter-connected. But having focus helps people see.

Get a Custom Experience

This is a bit of an advanced topic, and perhaps is a little redundant. I say that because if you know how to arrange this, you already know what I am going to say here. The boilerplate seminars are probably not the best solution if you know what you want. If you have a client relationship with either of the Shingijutsu’s, they have proven agreeable to setting up a custom experience. This is especially true for top-level leadership teams and advanced topical training.

Shingijutsu is not the end-all

It is true – Shingijutsu, especially some senior individuals, can be a challenge to deal with. There are other consultants today who have the connections and contacts to arrange the “Japan” experience. I have no personal experience, so cannot specifically advise, but some have quite good reputations. Still, I would strongly advise performing your due-diligence, and ensuring you still have good preparation. I would also advise having someone on your staff, or someone you trust, who knows the business do some of the vetting for you.

Another option is that there are independent consultancies who have relationships with Shingijutsu. Frankly, mere association with Shingijutsu, and even using “Shingijutsu” in the name does not assure quality or competency, but they are out there, have the relationships, and might be able to get you started.

Thoughts from Nagoya: Japan, Toyota, Shingijutsu

Nagoya Castle

This last road trip was 3+ weeks in China, then a week at the Shingijutsu seminar in Japan. It was a little fortunate for me since I was the only member on our team who was not suffering from 8-12 hours of jet lag.

As I noted at the start of the Shingijutsu Seminar series, Shingijutsu Co. split along factional lines a few years ago. I did not get an opportunity to get into details with anyone I know who would tell me, maybe I will inquire about the juicy details later on through correspondence. Anyone who does know is welcome to comment below.

Nakao-sensei’s group is now based in Nagoya and has a USA office in Portland, Oregon. They call themselves “Shingijutsu USA.” The other Shingijutsu goes by “Shingijutsu Global Consulting” and is headed up by Niwa-Sensei. Although I have no personal experience with this organization, I have some reliable second-hand information that they are a little much better at organizing the seminars and training activities. I also get anecdotal information that there remains a great deal of bad blood between the two groups, though some of that is egos and personalities of certain individuals who need not be named as if you care, you know who they are.

One of the interesting things we did on Thursday after the report-out was visit to the Nagoya office. The feature is stand-up desks made from the modular tube structure available under several different names. The same material is used to make racks and carts at Toyota as well as many other companies, but this is the first time I have seen it used to make office furniture. I will let the photos speak for themselves.

Shingijutsu Office Tour Shingijutsu office

This is obviously not for everyone, but it works for them, and that is what is important.

The opposite side of the office is floor covered with a tatami mat and a traditional table.

Toyota Museum

I mentioned the Toyota Museum a couple of days ago. If you plan on visiting, plan on about 4 hours. We did not have enough time on the planned itinerary. I have been there before and still would have liked to spend another hour on the site. Good museums are like that.


The last time I was in Japan (except for stopovers at Narita) was 2000 on a similar seminar. That time we had two weeks in-country, and more time to get out and about. Still, eight years is more than enough time to get a sense of where a country is going. The mid- and late- teens of 2000 are well into the workforce now. While it is still clearly Japan, I also got a sense that things have continued to loosen up a bit, for better or worse. There are also more people on the streets with a few extra pounds than before.

Shingijutsu Kaizen Seminar Day 5 – Toyota Museum, Toyota Tour

Friday was a visit to the Toyota Museum in the morning and the “1 hour tour” of the Tsutsumi assembly plant in the afternoon.

Toyota Museum

If you ever get to Nagoya, the Toyota Museum is superb and definitely worth a visit. Even if you have no interest at all in lean manufacturing (so why are you reading this??) you get a really good look at over 100 years of technology development in the weaving industry, as well as their automotive history.

Sakichi Toyoda was one of Japan’s greatest inventors. Starting at the end of the 19th century he started incorporating mechanical assist and then automation into weaving looms. Remarkably his inventions were the first significant advance in weaving technology since John Kay invented the flying shuttle in 1733. Most of Sakichi’s principles remain today. There have been engineering advancements, but the basics are all still there. It was patent licensing of his first fully-automated loom with auto shut-off (jidoka) — the Model G in 1924 — that capitalized his start into the automobile business.

But I have to give credit to Gregg, one of my team-mates here, who summed it all up in one profound sentence:

“… all of this started with a son trying to make life easier for his mother.”

Wow. and Yeah. That insight really got to the core of what kaizen is about – a passion for making the work easier, because people’s burden matters.

Tsutsumi Plant Tour

Just to be clear, this is exactly the same tour that any group gets. There is nothing particularly special. The bus is boarded at the gate by the Public Relations girl (they are always young women), and she starts the spiel. We are on the catwalk over the line following a specific route.

So what did I see?

Wow. And that is not just because it was a Toyota plant, been on this tour before. The “Wow” is that they have made a significant change in their material conveyance. This may be old news to you, but I was last in this plant in 2000, so it was new to me. Previously they had line side racks with stocks of parts for the various models and options. The assembler looked at the manifest for the part code, and picked the appropriate parts for that car from the bins and installed them.

Later on I know they placed RFID on the car roofs which tell the various poka-yokes in the work station what the car needs, but the pick method was not fundamentally different. Kanban replenished the parts are they were used. (more about the RFID in a little bit.)

Now they are kitting car-specific collections of parts and sequencing them to the assembly stations. This is significant because I am a big fan of picking kits and delivering them to assembly at takt. There are a lot of possible problems which are mitigated or eliminated when this is done. But I had always conceded that at some point, takt time was so quick that it might not be practical.

I stand corrected. Here is an operation picking and delivering kits to many hundreds of assembly positions, one-by-one, at a takt of just under 60 seconds. Wow. The picking process is, well, superb, I am not sure what else I can say about it here. I am going to assemble my thoughts over the next couple of days.

RFID – the Car as Customer

The other really interesting bit was the use of an RFID box on top of every car. The box has that particular car’s configuration and options coded in it. (I suppose it could be a serial number linked to an option list in a data base too, but knowing some basic tenants of Toyota’s philosophy regarding information flow, I would not be surprised if the data were actually carried on the car.)

As the car moves through the processes, each work station basically asks the car “What are you? What do you need?” and the “car” responds through the RFID. The work stations’ poka-yokes and other configuration dependent things then adjust to help the assembler give the car what it needs.

So why not just put the sequence list in the computer and have each one called up as it goes by?

What happens if (inevitably) some small variation causes the list to not be accurate. There are thousands of things that can cause small changes. The second that computer sequence list is inaccurate, the entire system breaks down. And inaccurate it will be. Anyone who has tried to run their factory on detailed MRP blowdown knows what I am talking about.

No, in this case, each car “pulls” the work it requires, when it requires it. The information in each work station is delivered just-in-time, and not one second earlier. Thus the information is always the latest. Note that this is really not a fundamental change philosophically. The car has always carried its configuration information with it on the paper manifest. What is different here is that the computer system is facilitating better kaizen, but the information flow philosophy has not changed. The information travels with the car, not ahead of it.

What about that picking and kitting process? Well – and maybe one of you Toyota guys out there can answer this for me – and I will update this accordingly – but I would speculate that it too is driven by the RFID tags rather than a production sequence list. It is a very simple matter to know how many takt-times of lead time are required to pick the kit and get it to the appropriate station. (Well, it is simple for Toyota who is so takt-pulse driven, it may not be as simple for the rest of us – a kaizen opportunity here – basic stability.)

If it takes 10 takt times to pick and get a kit to the line, then 10 positions upstream of the delivery point the RFID is queried. “What are you?” That tells the system what is needed in +10 positions, and the pick list is sent to the picking area. The parts are pulled, kanban cards posted for replenishment, and the kit-cart sent on its way.. first in, first out, one-by-one to the assembly line.

No calculated lead-time offset. No sequenced pick list created in the morning. No sequenced pick list that will be wrong 5 minutes after it is printed. Robust, problem-tolerant, and simple.

Shingijutsu Kaizen Seminar – Day 4

Today was the final report-out. In these events this is quite ritualized. Each team has a takt time, and must present a standard work combination sheet that shows the flow of their presentation. Everyone must participate in the presentation. There is a general set sequence for what is shown first, second, third, etc.

Because we only had two days on the shop floor (plus the fact that the host company really wasn’t set up with the background support logistics for rapid idea implementation), a lot of the “kaizens” presented were actually results from simulations. While there is still some learning value, I think that the participants missed something in not seeing what really good kaizen response looks like.

Shingijutsu Gemba Kaizen Seminar – Kaizen Key Points

The last post was a bit of a narrative, and I think it is appropriate to call out a few key points and express them succinctly.

  • The theoretical stuff all emphasizes “initial process stability” as a requirement for progress. Ohno said “without standards there can be no kaizen.” Mark says – “Without parts there can be no assembly.” Everyone knows this, then goes ahead and tries to implement standard work in the assembly areas. Bzzzzzzzt. Wrong answer. You simply can’t if they are blocked from performing to the standard.
  • Key Point: Stability is often implemented from the outside in. If you have unreliable suppliers, or an unreliable or inconsistent conveyance process, you are going to have to stock the inventory you think is necessary (DO THE MATH!) to buffer you supplier’s issues from assembly operations.
  • Once we started even going through the limited motions of establishing stability in three operations, it was clear that there was available cycle time for the waster strider (mizusmashi).
  • Key Point: Adding a water strider (if done correctly) does not add cycle time etc, to the supported process. There simply isn’t any reason NOT to do it.
  • Once again the standard work combination sheet proved to be one of the most valuable, least understood, and least used tools in the kit.

One of the features, if you can call it that, of attending these seminars is that you go home with a nice stopwatch. In this instance, the stopwatches have a lap-time recording feature. You can leave the watch running, click the left button, and it records the elapsed time for each sub-event.

Intuitively this is useful for cycle time studies, however I found a few disadvantages from the old way of recording the continuously running time on the sheet and breaking down the individual times later.

  1. If the work cycle never varies you can happily click away at each observation point and you will get great cycle times. But if there is variation in the work cycle itself, you are hosed. The stopwatch only records times for “LAP-002; LAP-003” etc. Taking times on a sheet of paper allows you to record what was actually happening even if it varied from the work sequence you originally wrote down.
  2. Press the wrong button at the wrong time and you lose it all – the stopwatch clears. Actually I think the lap times remain in memory, but still, I am not comfortable with this. Make a mistake on a paper time observation sheet and you can recover. Even if you accidentally stop and clear the watch, it is easy to recover by re-starting the total elapsed time baseline.
  3. Maybe I am old school here, and I admit that I have lots of practice, but by the time they were finished explaining how to get the lap times out of the stopwatch and write them down, I had already calculated all of the component task times, total cycle times, and was finished.

The bottom line with the stopwatch bit is that I believe they would better serve their clients’ education needs by teaching the running-time method. Anyone who gets a lapping stopwatch can figure out how to do it the other way. The running time approach does require practice to get down. But I think it is more robust. YMMV, that is just my opinion.

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.

Shingijutsu Kaizen Seminar – Day 2

The day today ended about 10 pm. It is 11 pm now as I write this, which translates to 7 am Pacific Time. I will leave the remaining time zones as an exercise for my European readers. (Hello, Corrie!)

Once we hit the shop floor today we were in “understand the current situation” mode. It turned out to be more difficult than I expected due to a high level of variation, some real, but most self-inflicted, on the line. Yesterday I mentioned my great plan to put the less experienced people on the front line of the cycle time study. Well, I ended up doing that, along with everyone else, since the area we are working is fairly spread out and has 11 people working in it.

After getting our heads around things, we have these areas of focus tomorrow.

  1. Establish an even and visual pitch on the moving conveyor. We need to know when work cycles are supposed to start and end so we have some kind of baseline about where the cycle time issues are. This will help.
  2. Basic 5S and parts presentation in the first position. This guy is responsible for setting the takt for everyone else since he is the one who launches the unit down the conveyor after his stationary build. We might try to move most of his build to the conveyor too. I think it has been on the conveyor in the past because the unit moves through the first pitch without anyone touching it.
  3. Start recording line stops. When, why, how often. Basic understanding of where the problems are.
  4. Detailed work combination analysis of a semi-automated testing operation at mid-line. We know there are disruptions there, but those disruptions cause major distortions to the actual (vs. planned) work cycle, so we need to understand whether the operation even has the theoretical capability to meet takt.
  5. Work on a sub-assembly operation and at least try the concept of building unit-by-unit instead of batching to the weekly published schedule. Stuff is late to the line. It is probably not a capacity issue but rather that capacity being used making stuff other than what is needed right now. This will be a little complicated because they actually feed parts to more than one line position. Thus if they get truly synchronized with their customer, they will not build a unit set of parts because this is a mixed line, and different positions have different products at any given time. Instead they will have to shift their focus from “unit” to their individual main-line customers and build what they need next.

The real overall challenge is that this is a two-day event, and we spent the first day just getting our heads wrapped around all of this. So tomorrow will be busy. But people are learning, and that is the whole point. It is important not to lose sight of the reason we are here. If the host company gains, so much the better, but it is really about the participants learning something we can take back.

And yes, I have been deliberately vague so as not to compromise the host company. They have been at this a long time, and done some very impressive things. This particular area, however, needs work, which I suppose is why we are in it.

Shingijutsu Kaizen Seminar – Day 1

As I mentioned in the last post, this is the third time I have been through one of these events. The first time was in 1998, then again in late 2000, now in 2008 – so it has been a while. As you may or may not know, the company that was Shingijutsu back in 2000 had an internal factional split a few years ago, so now there are two of them. This seminar is being conducted by what I would call the “Nakao faction.” It was a credit to Nakao-sensei that he recognized me, as did his son and daughter who are also working for the company. They are all very good people, as usual.

The first day of these seminars is lecture.

I will be the first to tell you that the Japanese style of teaching, especially when filtered through an interpreter, can be difficult for a Westerner to follow. Nevertheless, it was good to re-grounded on some of the very basics.

Take-away quotes:

“I have them see what I am seeing.”

– Nakao-sensei describing taking a senior manager to the shop floor and questioning what she saw until she saw “it.” My early postings about “the chalk circle” reflect my own experience with the same thing. My note to myself was:

“Teaching through directed observation is a core concept.”

This is very consistent with the experience recounted in Steven Spear’s article “Learning to Lead at Toyota.”

The other key point (at least for me) was the end of a story told about the response to recommending more frequent deliveries from suppliers:

“That would be expensive.”
Response: “Why?”
And thus, the muda is revealed when implementing better flow merely as a thought experiment.
Many years ago Hirano published the same advice: Force single-piece-flow, at least temporarily, into the process to reveal what waste you need to work on. Then work on it.

Tomorrow we go to the shop floor. I found out that I am the “team leader” for this group of people, about half from my company, so it should be an interesting experience. There is a very diverse spread in the level of knowledge and understanding. I asked this afternoon who had not had experience with time studies before. Those are the people I will put on the point for gathering the current condition as this is a learning exercise. Too often people get obsessed with the targets, or with proving they “already know this” – that’s not the point, and not what our companies are paying us to do here. We are supposed to be learning.

Good night, it is an early morning.