November 30th, 2015
In the contemporary business world, it is not enough to just do things well. You have to continually do them better. There have been many different philosophies employed over the years about how to accomplish this. Most of them involve analyses and decisions made by people who rarely have anything directly to do with the actual manufacturing process. However, one organization decided to change that and their new approach proved so successful, it largely became the standard in the years that followed.
The founder of Toyota Industries, Sakichi Toyoda created the 5 Whys technique during the 1930s. It explores the use of cause and effect as the most efficient way to problem solve. Repeating the question “Why?” five times helps to break down the reasons for a difficult or unexpected situation so that a solution can be determined. While it sounds simplistic and almost childish, this approach proved to be remarkably effective and was widely adopted all over the world.
The solutions discovered through the 5 Whys point out problems or other shortcomings that need to be rectified. These could be changes in manufacturing location, the necessity for new equipment or the need of government funding for business as a way of encouraging and financing additional internal development programs. “Kaizen” means “improvement” in Japanese, and was revolutionary in that minor changes became the basis of problem correction rather than a large-scale, methodology of sweeping alteration.
Applying Kaizen in the Automotive World
Executives at Toyota realized that learning the processes and conditions in their manufacturing plants would put them in a far better position when it came to making management decisions. Working directly with their labour representatives led to the creation of a complete operating system, which embraced the methodology of change.
Toyota’s product improved as a result, as did its reputation among consumers. While other automobile manufacturers struggled to cope with flagging demand, Toyota sales were more consistent. The Toyota Cressida became a standout during the 1980s as the best built car available in North America and the Corolla earned similarly high praise.
Keeping Learning Internal
One of the key concepts behind kaizen is the importance of learning in a work context. This is ongoing at Toyota and their employees learn on the job, rather than through outside sources. Executives and supervisors also function more as teachers rather than bosses, bringing a level of informality that encourages participation and equality. That inspires employees to do their best and expand their knowledge, key aspects of any ongoing improvement.
These workers also have a strong sense of why their job is important. This generates through the administration’s attention to the learning process and its implementation. Change initiatives are commonplace throughout the company, rather than in just one or two divisions. Management also takes the time to verify the effectiveness of the knowledge imparted and how employees responded to this instruction. Emphasizing change and learning as core parts of an employee’s working life makes them second nature.
While it may have originated in Japan, the kaizen philosophy is an approach to manufacturing that still makes sense in today’s business world. Everyone performs better when they feel that they have an ongoing role in the process and carry out a function that is valued by their supervisors. Instead of worrying that the company will be behind the curve when it comes to efficiency and innovation, organizations should strive instead to practice continual improvement. That way they can function at the height of efficiency and, in the case of Toyota, possibly even become an industry leader. Government funding for training employees in a work context is available through the Canada Ontario Jobs Grant.