Toyota: an example of how to use Kaizen for success

Kaizen is a method widely used in many companies to improve in all areas. The translation in Japanese is “continuous improvement” and it means that you always have to be aware of how can be improved all processes and how each person in the company can contribute. One of the companies who excel by good use of your Kaizen is Toyota, that makes its goals and objectives into a “what we must do” instead of “what we could do”.

In order to implement this philosophy requires a serious commitment of employees with the company and discipline that involves all members, both senior officers, as middle and low position. It also involves all areas of the company.

At Toyota, the Kaizen methodology is applied based on three principles keys: the five “s”, five whys and the Thinking People System (TPS).

The five “S”

It refers to the Japanese words Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke or translated into English, Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. This system is recognized by the simplicity with which you can understand and apply in the daily life of the organization, as well as involving all who work in it. Toyota also invites all his employees to apply this not only inside the organization but also in their life.

Seiri or Sort refers to the elimination of unnecessary items in the workplace. To make this step is necessary to be clear about what will be the criteria to select or remove objects. After this, the deleted objects passed to a second review to decide will be done with them. Toyota also tries to reduce the useless things in this step by planning before what they will need.

lego-sorting_kaizen_toyota_logistics
Image courtesy of jwhittenburg at Flickr.com

Seiton or “Set in order” is where everything is classified and has a specific place for storage. Toyota considers that in this step, each item should be easy to find and use. For example, many of the tools they use are always at hand close to the workplace and arranged to be easily caught without keys or doors or wasting time searching it.

Seiso or “Shine” involves the cleaning part that will take place every day. It is not only clean but also try to avoid get dirty as possible. This should be done not only to have more order in the company but a responsibility to the environment, by cleaning everything that can pollute and reduce waste.

Seiketsu or “Standardize” invites to make all the above steps a habit. To accomplish this, Toyota always seeks to create awareness about the importance of the 5’s and give their employees clear rules to carry them out.

Finally, Shitsuke or Sustain, speaks of self-discipline. At this point, all members of the company constantly apply 5s looking to improve more every day.

The five “why”

In Toyota all members are always encouraged to participate in the development of ideas, this in order to create the best possible solution. Kaizen methodology needs logic and continuous assessment of what is going to be done, so every planned improvement is tested by questioning ‘why?’ At five levels.

This system, that became popular in the 70s used by Toyota, seeks to find the main problem in an easy way. Its name comes from the idea that the answer to a problem, always take you to another “why” and so on until you find the origin. Currently, the use of the “5 whys” is used not only in Toyota, but several companies in different areas outside the Kaizen, for example in six sigma.

Among the techniques used to develop the five whys, the most popular ones  are the Ishikawa diagram and the tabular format. The first is a graphical representation where several minor factors go to a number of causes that lead to the same center line that resolves the problem.

However, the five whys method is also criticized because it tends to find only one root cause of a problem, leaving aside other possible factors that might have affected. In the current case of Toyota, this system is being used not only to resolve conflicts but to avoid creating new plans or changes without sufficient justification.

TPS (Thinking People System)

The Kaizen continuous improvement philosophy depends not only on experts or leaders but involves everyone in the company. Therefore, Toyota believes that everyone can contribute their knowledge and skills. By TPS, it becomes possible for everyone to do their part and be able to devise other solutions. That´s why Toyota makes a reunion all mornings to be aware of what people needs and suggest.

Another initiative proposed by this system is that it invites to be aware of the importance of the activities that each one performs in the company and to think about the reason for the procedure that is done. In addition, the TPS makes Toyota staff feels valued and heard.

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