This was extremely insightful, and I learned a lot about the differences between the Japanese car makers. Let me give you an overview and some details on Toyota plants before firing off a series of blog posts on the different Japanese automotive companies.
The Japanese work ethic is pretty amazing, and their work standards are among the best of the world. In previous posts I have often written very favorably on these standards. Yet, not all is right in the Japanese working world. In fact, a lot is wrong and troublesome, and this superior work performance comes at a significant cost of work-life balance.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Japanese word monozukuri (sometimes written as 物作り, but most often written as ものづくり). Literally translated, it means to make (zukuri) things (mono). Yet, there is so much meaning lost in translation. A better translation would be “manufacturing; craftsmanship; or making things by hand.” However, this translation also does not give justice to the weight and influence this idea has in Japan. Let me take you on a tour of the Japanese culture of monozukuri.
Japan is a wonderland for anybody interested in lean. Of course there is the archetype of lean manufacturing, the Toyota group and its Toyota Production System. However, access to Toyota plants is restricted, and during their guided tours you can observe only so much. (See for example my post on Evolution of Toyota Assembly Line Layout – A Visit to the Motomachi Plant as the result of such a tour).
Fortunately, the goal to achieve perfection is also found in many other processes in Japan, many of which you can observe almost anytime, whenever you like and for how long you like. In the past I blogged about Lean in the Japanese Public Toilet and Japanese Standard Pointing and Calling on Japanese trains. This time I’m looking in more detail into the Japanese supermarket, in particular its checkout system.
A famous step toward perfection in a lean production system is a lot size of one. However, few people realize what enormous effort and rigor Toyota applies to achieve this goal. During my visit to a Toyota plant and the APMS conference in Tokyo in 2015, I saw quite a few stunning examples of this quest. Let me show you …
Whenever I am in Japan, I look for examples of lean behavior visible to the public (see, for example, Japanese Standard Pointing and Calling). This time I would like to talk about Japanese public toilets and all the nifty features to make their use a pleasant experience. You will be surprised how much thought goes into public toilets in Japan. The same level of attention to detail is also something necessary for good lean implementations. Japanese public toilets in particular do a great job servicing the not-average user!
During my last trip to Japan, I finally took videos capturing the Japanese Pointing-and-Calling standard. Pointing and calling is a safety standard that started with Japanese train operators but now is widely used in industry. The idea is that whenever you confirm something, you not only look at it, but also point at it and call out your observation.
In the West, the standard approach for problem solving is to take a good look a the problem, after which a solution approach will pop into someone’s head. This approach is then optimized until the problem is solved. However, while this often ends up with one solution, it usually is far from the best solution possible. In Japan, a very different multidimensional problem-solving approach is common. Rather than just use any solution that solves the problem, they aim for the best solution they can find.