Kaizen and the final process

Takehiko Harada learned from the founding fathers of Lean practices at Toyota. I highly recommend his book- Management Lessons from Taiichi Ohno. He outlines 15 powerful practices for guiding breakthrough productivity improvements in a company. Today I want to talk about one particular concept.

“Kaizen equals getting closer to the final process”- Takehiko Harada, Management Lessons from Taiichi Ohno.

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This phrase is about keeping sub-processes, the processes that go into the final product, as close as possible to the actual main process. This means having a short lead time. Let’s look at this in terms of physical product: if a product was manufactured across several sites and for example, your sub-assembly was manufactured in one building, and the main assembly in another building, it could be worth considering- can you manufacture both the sub-assembly and the main assembly in the one building to keep things close together? It obviously eliminates a lot of wastes including, movement, inventory, excess motion. So, this kind of distance- physical or even non-physical such as time waiting- can be detrimental to quality. Even manufacturing subassemblies too early in your process, having them sit around, or manufacturing goods too far in advance of the client’s requirements then storing them, creates waiting waste, namely waiting of materials or components.

Another interesting point that Harada spoke about that’s worth considering- if you don’t have the right skills, you’ll find you can’t get closer to that final process. Without skill, lead times will be extended through processes. Skill is how you achieve Kaizen to get closer to the final process. That’s really important. If the skills needed are lacking, there are all sorts of things that get you further away from your final processes, such as extra time taken, additional errors, or over-processing. Your people and management need the skills and knowledge to reduce lead times and complete processes in a timely manner.

Additionally, actions that might be considered improvements, could actually be drawing you further away from the last process. An example of this is outsourcing work or a subprocess to another vendor or supplier of a process that has proved difficult or that you don’t currently have the resources to produce in-house. This strategic outsourcing of a process in order to separate out quality issues only gets you further from your last process.  Alternatively, you might have a really inconsistent product. It might seem easier to outsource this process so you don’t have to deal with the quality issues. But you’re paying for it in some way. While this is quite common, and it’s not always that outsourcing is bad, the reason we usually do it, is because an outside party can do it cheaper than we can. However, if we were to keep that process in-house, we keep the problem visible and then we can work on solving it rather than just going- ‘Someone else does it better. We give up.’ Keep it in house and you will have control of your processes.

Now it’s not always feasible and practical. Sometimes, you don’t have the ability- straight up. But if you do, and outsourcing is used as a method of solving problems, then you actually need to have a close look at what you’re doing. Solve the problem, don’t just outsource it.

At the end of the day, it is Kaizen that actually helps improve flow in your process. Better flow creates better lead time. If you’re overcoming challenges that you would otherwise outsource, keeping them in house and solving problems, you can identify how to make processes flow better. You can eliminate the stops and starts in your flow.

So do yourself a favour- have a read of ‘Management Lessons from Taiichi Ohno’ by Takehiko Harada, or contact us at Makoto to learn more.