What Type of Kaizen

Kevin Meyer

Kevin Meyer: Any upsides/downsides to relying on JM/TWI process deconstruction as kaizen? Yes it works… but I can already see the limitation with non-documented processes

By Kevin Meyer, President of Specialty Silicone Fabricators and Factory Strategie Group, co-author of ‘Evolving Excellence: Thoughts on Lean Enterprise Leadership’Last updated: Sunday, July 18, 2010 – Save & ShareLeave a comment

A few of the thinkers and authors on this page have actually been in my operations, and I’ve used Michael’s The Lean Manager as required reading in our lean book club.  We’re a multi-site process (extrusion/molding) medical contract manufacturer, four or five years down a successful lean journey that has made us more agile and competitive, with great 5S, value stream organization, daily accountability, etc.   But one big struggle has been basic kaizen – creating the culture and finding the time.  Over the past couple years with help from Art Smalley we’ve successfully dived into TWI.  Now it seems like the JM side of TWI has created “our way” of doing kaizen – breaking down and reconstructing the job method prior to JI lets us remove wasteful steps.  Any thoughts on the pros and cons of this simply being our method of larger kaizen?  We do have some success with Bodek-style “quick and easy kaizen” with small changes.

Art Smalley Response:

Kevin Meyer and his organization were kind enough to invite me to his company a couple of years ago to introduce the basic concepts of the TWI Job Methods (JM) program. JM is a very easy way to introduce some of the fundamental concepts of improvement to most any organization. JM falls short of capturing the entirety of Kaizen or the Toyota Production System (TPS) and that was never its intent. However as I like to tell people it is an easy first step for a lot of places looking to improve and develop internal resources.

The exact date of the Toyota Production System varies by how you define the concepts. Jidoka concepts go all the way back to the early 1920′s when Sakichi Toyoda was designing automatic looms. The term Just-In-Time dates back to 1937 when Kiichiro Toyoda coined the term for internal operations and material flow for Toyota’s fledgling automotive operations.

More specifically however in terms of development and accomplishment most insiders at Toyota point to the time around 1950 or so when Taiichi Ohno became the manufacturing manager of the engine operations at Toyota. He started experimenting with improving product flow by eliminating departmental grouping of machines and having employees operate multiple machines connected by small conveyors. Slowly over a five year period things progressed and eventually included a basic pull system and some initial forms of leveling and other concepts. Not many pictures exist from the era but here is a sample one that shows the difference in appearance from a 1950′s era of production line improvement (click for image).

While accomplishing what he wanted to do in engine manufacturing at Toyota Mr. Ohno ran into the same problem that many of us face in implementing lean. That is the problem of human resource development. Even in Ohno’s machine shops which consisted of around 500 people when he assumed management responsibility it was a slow march towards improvement and many people just didn’t “get it” which was a source of frustration.

As a countermeasure Mr. Ohno asked the people in training and education at Toyota to search for and find some basic material for the purpose of developing supervisors and managers. He knew that nothing exactly would match his thinking but I’m guessing he was looking for anything fundamental that might help train people in his manufacturing organization. Not everyone has to be an expert but you of course want as many people as possible to understand and support the basic concepts of improvement.

In the period between 1951-1953 Toyota implemented the three main TWI training courses of Job Instruction (JI), Job Methods (JM), and Job Relations (JR) company wide. The term Kaizen was actually used in conjunction with the JM course and its explanation (click here if you want to see the page in Japanese from internal company archives).

Job Methods quite simply is the easiest way that I know of to train people in the basic concepts of how to to conduct analysis of a job, how to break it down into details, how to question every part of the job, and then how to look for ways to improve the job. The materials and thought process are very simple and it takes only a couple days to grasp the essence unlike the more complex totality of TPS or its recent derivatives. With JM you simply write down the steps of a job and then ask a series of questions such as the following:

  • Why is this step necessary?
  • What is its purpose?
  • When should it be done?
  • Where should it be done?
  • Who is best qualified to do it?
  • How is the best way to do the job?

For each step you also ask is there a way to Eliminate, Combine, Rearrange, or Simplify the task (the principle of ECRS).  Here is a link to a site that has archived the TWI materials such as JM if you are interested in the specific details of Job Methods (click here).

With that long and convoluted introduction I will return to Kevin Meyer’s basic question. Is there anything wrong or limiting with the JM approach to Kaizen? Personally I don’t think there is anything “wrong” with using Job Methods analysis as a way to get started with Kaizen and making basic improvements. For some this is simply an easy way to introduce the concept of improvement that has proven results. Toyota had success with it for many years for example in the 1950′s and the U.S. government used it successfully in many companies during World War II as well.

There are shortcomings with JM however that need to be kept in mind. Job Methods was an excellent vehicle inside of Toyota for training supervisors and managers in a few basic concepts specifically elimination of unnecessary details in a job (i.e. waste elimination). It did not however include any links to important concepts such as Just-in-Time, Jidoka, Standardized Work, or other important Toyota inspired methods. As such it will most likely never result in astounding break through Kaizen efforts that some may strive for in improvement. Job Methods also falls short of including simple things like time study, motion study, flow analysis or other basic analytical tools for improvement. There is no reason you can’t add those in on your own of course I am simply sticking to describing the original JM content.

The biggest strength of JM to keep in mind however was that it was about developing people and their skill level for making improvements. Here is a statement from the initial JM texts that Toyota used and translated into Japanese.

JM is a practical method to help you produce greater quantities of quality products in less time, by making the best use of manpower, machines, and materials now available.

In summary Job Methods alone probably won’t turn your organization into world class performance and it never made any claims of that sort to begin with. Job Methods training however in my opinion is a great vehicle for looking at existing processes and finding simple way to improve for the typical person in manufacturing.  For many including Toyota Motor Corporation it was a valuable and practical early step. Depending upon the type of Kaizen or span of improvement you are looking for it might be of help to you as well.

Final Note: In the fall of 2010 a book entitled “Toyota Kaizen Methods” will be available that covers some of the history of how Kaizen unfolded inside of Toyota from the 1950′s forward. The book also outlines the six primary steps of Kaizen that were taught inside of Toyota for several decades. The primary author of the book is Isao Kato a retired manager of Toyota’s Training and Education Department and I am the secondary author. In terms of historical perspective Mr. Kato was the master trainer for Toyota’s TWI courses and the developer of the modern Standardized Work / Kaizen course.  In addition he was the editor of the first internal TPS manual written inside Toyota in the early 1970′s. (Click here for a link to pre-ordering information for the book from either CRC press or Amazon.)