Our Toyota Tour Guide’s Kaizen
We just finished our second day of our Kaizen Institute Japan Lean Tour and it’s been great so far. Follow us via the hashtag #KaizenTour on Twitter for more real-time updates.
Monday afternoon, we visited Toyota’s Tsutsumi plant in Toyota City, where they produce Prius and Camry models. In the theme of being an “eco-factory” for eco-cars, they have solar panels on the roof that generate HALF of the electricity needed to run the assembly line. Pretty cool.
We had an excellent English-speaking tour guide for our visit (she lived in Hawaii at one point). As we talked through the facility (up in a “catwalk” that gave good visibility down into the process), she would occasionally stop at pre-determined points to explain something about the process or about the Toyota Production System and its elements.
At each stop, there was a box with a microphone and other audio/visual equipment and speakers. She didn’t have to carry a microphone with her.
The guide was carrying a bag, something between a briefcase and a large purse.
One of our sharp-eyed tour attendees, a Chief Medical Officer from a Canadian hospital, noticed a hook that she would hang her bag on while stopped and talking. He asked her about the hook.
Sure enough, it was a Kaizen improvement! And, it was her idea.
As she explained, she used to have to set her bag down on the catwalk, which she didn’t like.
She had the idea of putting up hooks, an inexpensive change.
Here’s my awful sketch:
When a Toyota employee has an idea, she explained, they bring up the idea to their manager. Sometimes, the implement the idea and then write it up and share it with the manager.
The write up has the current condition and what you think should be changed (sometimes with pictures being added). In this case, she wrote it up and proposed it to her manager in public relations.
She said, “My manager normally approves things for me.” I asked her if all managers were like that and she said that some managers were “more strict” and didn’t like to approve as many ideas, which is an interesting example of variation within their company culture.
The guide said that the managers generally encourage you to implement your own idea. I asked if she did that in this case and she said that a colleague actually attached the hooks for her.
I asked how they get new employees involved and she simply said, “The Kaizen idea suggestion system is explained to new employees and they do it.”
The numbers she shared were:
- 430,000 Kaizens implemented per year in Japan
- 68,000 employees total
- Thats 6.3 Kaizens per employee per year, on average
She has personally done two Kaizens in the past month (I didn’t catch what the second one was).
Toyota pays 500 yen to the employee for each Kaizen idea, which is currently $4.36 in US dollars. They can be paid up to as much as 200,000 yen for special ideas ($1743).
I love seeing the Kaizen principles that I’d recognize and teach in healthcare:
- Set an expectation that employee ideas are welcome
- Approve most ideas
- Let people implement their ideas
- Write up a simple before and after explanation, with pictures
- Let people solve problems that matter to them
Russell Watkins asked a good question on Twitter:
@MarkGraban at the risk of being awkward & assuming the tour is circular…does she need to carry her bag all the way around?
— russell watkins (@leansempai) November 17, 2014
I didn’t ask why she needs the bag with her. Maybe a manager could ask that question in the course of Kaizen discussion, but they let her have her hooks.
There was another Kaizen that she pointed out as we walked down stairs. They have small green plants in the corners of the stairwells. Somebody suggested adding two small white cords to hold the plants in place, as I’ve crudely sketched:
Clearly, Toyota is following the common Kaizen practice of not requiring some sort of Return On Investment (ROI) for each and every Kaizen. It’s more important to encourage participation, building capabilities and enthusiasm in employees. If they keep participating, some of their Kaizens will eventually save money for the organization. If we reject simple Kaizens “because there’s no ROI,” then we lose that potential for future Kaizens that might have a more direct impact on different measures that matter to the organization.
Anyway, there is a little glimpse into life and Kaizen at a Toyota plant.
We’re now going to be visiting three different hospitals in three different cities Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, including one that I visited two years ago (see my post about the CEO and his comments on Kaizen).