In the past year or two, it seems like I have heard more about people and organizations leading Lean study trips to Japan. This has gone on for decades, but there seems to be a resurgence.
I first partnered with Kaizen Institute in 2012 to lead a “Lean Healthcare” study tour, we did another in 2014, and we're actively planning our next trip in early 2018.
The dates are February 26 to March 2, 2018. Details are still being finalized, but the tour would start in Tokyo and end in Nagoya. The plan is to not just visit some hospitals that are leaders in Lean and quality improvement practices, but to also visit Toyota and some other world-class organizations.
The trip costs 5400 euros, which is currently about $6300. This cost includes everything from the start of the tour on Monday morning to the end on Friday evening. Your airfare to Japan and back is a separate, independent cost to you.
In the past two trips, we've had a very international group (a majority of attendees have been from Europe and Asia). This creates a special opportunity to not just learn from our Japanese hosts, but to compare notes and learn from others around the world.
Click here to learn more via a web page that I run. You can also click here for a PDF that previews the 2018 tour. Registration has not yet opened, but contact me if you'd like to be notified with details.
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Our trips are intentionally a mix of hospital visits and other types of organizations that we can all learn from. It's great to see a Japanese hospital with a CEO who has been leading their quality and continuous improvement efforts for 20+ years and to hear their perspectives. At the same time, the hospitals we have visited were, at the time of our visits, relatively new to formal “Lean” practices – as they were building upon their “Total Quality Management” engagement and improvement practices… something that was NOT a fad for these hospitals or their leaders.
These trips are rich learning experiences. It's not just the formal visits, but the time talking on buses and trains, the meals together, and the networking and sharing that, for me, has continued with attendees long after the week is over.
Here are some recent thoughts from John Shook, chairman of the Lean Enterprise Institute (comments are not an endorsement of this tour), where he answers the “why go to Japan?” question, in part:
“…why go to Japan? Many lean practitioners come here to visit Toyota, but one could very well ask why they bother flying all the way to Far East when there are so many great Toyota plants and examples of lean thinking elsewhere in the world. There are of course reasons lean developed in Toyota City, however, and one might say the spirit of lean is still best seen and felt at its place of birth. As mentioned above, Toyota's constancy of purpose and tenacious kaizen determination throughout its journey are still extremely inspiring.”
I agree with John. One could go visit Toyota plants in San Antonio or Kentucky, which would be a great learning experience. I think the immersion in Japan is really worth seeing if you're a Lean practitioner. Do I think it's necessary? No, but if you want to go and can afford it, it's a great experience and a wonderful learning opportunity.
One of my key takeaways was a better understanding that not all Japanese companies are like Toyota. It's not easy or “natural” to have a Lean culture. Toyota and others have created something special that's not the norm for every company there.
Here are my past blog posts about visiting Japan, with a few links below.
A Japanese Hospital CEO on Kaizen, Innovation & Breakthrough
Key Points About Kaizen from Japanese Hospitals, Going Back in December
5S: The Good, the Bad, and the Extreme in Japanese Hospitals
“Quality Circles” Are Alive & Well in Japanese Organizations; We Might Call it A3 Problem Solving
Japan Tour Reflections: Taking Home Lean Artifacts or Lean Thinking?
The Kaizen Approach to Getting Others Comfortable with Sushi
I hope you can join us!
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