What 7 Lean Experts Have To Say About Kaizen

"Kaizen is a mindset!"

Is what people say​, however when people are first getting into Lean Manufacturing, it can be a little overwhelming. So I reached out to experts in the Lean Manufacturing field and these are people who have proven to implement lean, teach others about it and love doing it.

The question I asked them was

"What is one low-hanging fruit you can solve with a kaizen mindset"

I purposely made it vague so that I can get a variety of answers, interpret the question how they want, and I wanted something actionable that a person​ go back and implement.

I was blown away by the answers and I hope you like what they have to say.​

One low hanging fruit you can solve with kaizen is worker retention.

Without fail workers who are engaged in spotting waste and getting rid of it feel an investment in our farm, and they want to come back.

Ben Hartman

Ben Hartman

Author of The Lean Farm - claybottomfarm.com

The answer to that question for each person usually depends on what is right in front of their face. It's usually very easy for somebody to find a problem to solve or an opportunity for improvement in their workplace (or in their home).

See a problem... talk to your colleagues and supervisor... understand the cause of the problem... brainstorm possible solutions... try something.... and evaluate the results. It's as easy as that, if leaders create the right environment.

Asking people to identify "what bugs them?" or "what gets in the way of doing the work the right way" usually uncovers many opportunities for improvement. They key, as a leader, is giving people time and permission to work on Kaizen ideas, instead of taking it all on yourself, as the “boss.”

Mark Graban

Mark Graban

​VP of Improvement & Innovation Services - kainexus.com

How does Toyota do it?

As an entrepreneur, manufacture, author, speaker and consultant I love questions when people ask questions I know what they're thinking and if I know what they're thinking, I have the best opportunity to help them whether it be on the shop floor in my manufacturing plant or consulting with companies around the world.

Questions bring them on fast and furious as many as you can because that’s when the real learning occurs.

When Eric asked me to write this piece he asked me a fantastic question.

If someone were to run a kaizen event, what would be your best advice that they can look for?

"What would be the first thing you look for in a given area to help reduce move time or throughput?"

The Funny thing is just five days earlier I was in Japan sitting with Mr. Amezawa the Former president of Georgetown, Kentucky and and Mr.

Umamera President of Mafuni a tear 2 Toyota supplier and I asked them almost the same question.

Their reply was so revealing and gave me a greater understanding to why 2 second Lean is so effective. They said that 70% of all Kaizen improvements that Toyota and their suppliers do are small improvements, just removing steps in motion. The remaining 30% were made up of large Kaizens with the implementation of technology or more sophisticated applications of machinery to gain efficiency.

70% of Kaizen improvements that Toyota and their suppliers do are small improvements, just removing steps in motion.

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So what this means is...ask yourself how many steps are you taking with every process you make. Then start removing those steps systematically from everything you do. That along with bringing your work closer to you and reducing motion and creating small U shaped

cells so that you’re removing transportation motion and overprocessing will give you 70% of the improvements that need to be made in all of our operations.

Wow is that ever simple!

They elaborated even further by saying that Toyota says that a single step is worth a half a second. So count the steps and you can easily calculate the seconds that you'll be removing.

Toyota has a very catchy little phrase well it's not 100% accurate with the above stat that I just told you it's really affected because it can help any work or understand this concept.

One step. One second. One yen.

When one tours a Toyota or Lexus plant which I have done countless times, it is so evident that that is exactly what they're doing. You don't see their workers walking long-distances. It almost seem that they are dancing at ballet as they fluidly putting one part on after another while making minimal steps and motion.

Five days ago when we walked out of the Toyota plant I had a Q&A session with the 17 people that I tour of the plant with. I asked them what they thought? I've heard so many fantastic responses from people but a young woman gave me the best response I've ever heard.

There are three things you never get tired of watching, fire, water and the Toyota production system.

Again another big wow!

I would have to agree with her it is nothing short of magical to watch them assemble a car with so little motion, elegance and thoughtfulness in every process they perform.

How does Toyota do it?

They evaluated where the value-added work is and eliminated all the steps and motion so they reaching The value added work more quickly.

The hardest thing that most of us need to get our heads around is 90% of everything you and I do every day is waste.

Wasted motion and wasted steps. The beautiful thing about understanding this is

when you really do come to grips with how much waste each of us produces every day and start to chip away at it one second and one step at a time, the benefits will be so huge we will have a hard time believing it took us so long to understand something so simple.

How did Toyota do it?

One second, one step, one yen!

Paul Akers

Paul Akers

Paul Akers is the founder and president of FastCap, based in Ferndale, WA. FastCap is an international product development company founded in 1997 with over 2000 distributors worldwide. At its core, FastCap is a Lean company, determined to continuously improve everything, everyday. FastCap's products reflect the idea that everything can be improved and the best ideas come from the shop floor  - fastcap.com, paulakers.net

When organizations begin to experiment with Kaizen, there usually so many problems that its tough to choose what to do first.

Fixing safety issues and ergonomic problems should be the first focus. If we really want to engage employees we should show them that respect. Beyond that choice of what to do next is pretty situational.

Moreover, the concept of low-hanging fruit suggests that there is a one-time list of easy improvements. But as our understanding of kaizen deepens, what seemed beyond reach now becomes low-hanging and what seemed impossible now appears to be just beyond reach. Sooner or later, it’s all low-hanging fruit.

Bruce Hamilton

Bruce Hamilton

President, GBMP - gbmp.orgoldleandude.com

Kaizen – ‘to make changes for the better’.

Business improvement, process improvement, continuous improvement. Call it what you will, the spirit of Kaizen should be embedded in our culture at all levels of the business.

Everyone should look upon their responsibility within their job from two aspects:

  1. 1. To do my job
  2. 2. To improve my job

Easily said, but how do we apply the thinking? In my experience, Kaizen is broadly executed in one of two ways, a pre-planned ’event’ lasting several days where a cross functional team get together to solve a problem or improve a process within a defined scope (Implement 5s, carry out a SMED activity )etc. These events often make rapid improvements, as any ‘low hanging fruit’ is hunted down and addressed.

The second way is less obvious, I recall during my training in Japan (a Toyota assembly plant) being unexpectedly whisked away by my trainer to a small area of the factory and told “Paul-san, please Kaizen”. We then spent 2-3hours making small improvements to the working area addressing some housekeeping, safety and efficiency issues.

Then, as quickly as it started it was over. That day I learned several lessons:

  • Kaizen does not have to be pre-planned.
  • Kaizen can be applied anywhere, at any time, by anyone.
  • Any improvement is a valid improvement.
  • You do not need to spend a lot of time or money to implement some improvements.
  • We must not become ‘too busy’ to take actions that improve.
  • We aim to be continuously looking out for improvement opportunities.
  • Learn by doing.

So, where is the ‘low hanging fruit’ we can apply Kaizen to? The answer is everywhere, we just need to go see, ask why & show respect.

Paul Everitt

Paul Everritt

Lean Manufacturing Consultant & Coach - leanmanufacturinguk.com

The thing about the elements of Lean Processes is that they are all capable of making significant improvements to productivity. Identifying bottlenecks is important but without a full value stream analysis of the flow of work, eliminating them may mean changing the operations in a stage before the bottleneck actually occurs.

Eliminating waste, of time, space, resources, materials and talent requires Lean thinking in all areas where waste occurs. Perhaps the lowest hanging fruit is to identify and eliminate messes. Maybe it's the shelves that have obsolete printed catalogues, or the work table with tools scattered everywhere, or a storage room where things keep going in but nothing ever comes out. It could just be a matter of simple cleanliness and garbage disposal.

Messes are a metaphor for the psyche of a company. Cluttered workspaces are not only a safety hazard, they do not provide an atmosphere that encourages clear thinking and creativity. Messes take up valuable space and do not generate any income. Messes attract more messes and become contagious. An ordered and organized workplace encourages the maintenance of a mess-free facility and sends a message to those doing the work that they are part of an organization that pays attention to the quality of their workspace.

Linda Lundstrom

Linda Lundstrom

Design Director at Therma Kōta, Owner (Consulting, Facilitating, Public Speaking)  - lindalundstromworks.com

Kaizen: Beware the Low-Hanging Fruit

Almost all new kaizen programs begin with the search for the proverbial low-hanging fruit, and understandably so. It just makes sense that we start by reaping the biggest reward for the least amount of effort, doesn’t it? Perhaps not. While the low-hanging fruit might seem enticing, caution must be exercised not to become dependent on the high-reward, low-effort model of improvement. Allow me to explain.

In the early days of a Lean journey, life is good. The low-hanging fruit has been ripening on the vines for years, if not decades, just waiting to be plucked. To answer the original question of what low-hanging fruit can be solved with kaizen, we often start by 5S-ing a store room so we can get rid of the extra stuff we bought the last six times we couldn’t find what we needed. We “do SMED” to remove a few bothersome activities from a changeover. We “poka-yoke” a machine to reduce defects (and because it’s fun to say that we poke-yoked something). And we see some initial results.

In a short while, we learn to thrive off of the low-hanging fruit, exerting minimal effort for a sizeable reward. The low-hanging fruit is seemingly everywhere . . . until one day, it’s not. Slowly yet suddenly, we look around to find that the lower branches have been laid bare. It is at this time that we arrive at a crossroads: learn to pick the produce that hangs out of reach, or continue to depend on the low-hanging fruit only to starve while the produce above rots.

Unfortunately, data on the topic suggests that the vast majority of companies fail to make the transition away from low-hanging fruit to sustainable, long-term improvement. In a 2014 study of 67 factories across 19 countries, the authors concluded:

“There are indeed low-hanging fruits that give a few quick pay-offs, but the real benefits of lean are first realized when the majority of the factory and its supply chain operates according to the principles. Managers . . . erroneously terminate the lean implementation before they reach the harvest periods in later stages.”

So, what are we to do to avoid the trap of the low-hanging fruit? The answer comes from reframing the original question. Not, what low-hanging fruit can you solve with kaizen, but rather what do you need to solve for kaizen to move beyond the low-hanging fruit?

To fully answer this question requires more than just a single blog post, but there is much to be gained from going back to basics. In the seminal text on the topic, Kaizen, Masaaki Imai defines kaizen very simply and very powerfully as:

Kaizen: Continuous improvement involving everyone.

It may be leadership setting a vision to provide direction to our improvement efforts, or management the time and resources to make improvement, or front-line staff deepening the understanding of the work they perform and how it connects to customers. For kaizen to be successful, we must realize that every single person in our organizations has a role to play, and that the true value of kaizen comes from developing our people in these roles.

And so, while you and I alone may be able to pick a few pieces, it’s only by standing upon each other’s shoulders that we have the opportunity to reach beyond the low-hanging fruit and reap the real harvest.


Joel Gross

Joel Gross

Founder and Principle Author - TheKaiZone.com

I hope you learned something new through this round up post and I wanted to express my thank you to everyone who contributed.

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