The Spirit of Mottainai in Lean:


In today’s post I will be looking at “Mottainai” and the many ways it relates to Lean. The Japanese word “Mottainai” is sometimes used in connection with “Muda”, the Japanese word for waste. Muda literally means “no (mu) value (da)”. Mottainai on the other hand is translated as “wastefulness”. This is a very loose translation. Mottainai literally means “absence of intrinsic value” (Mottai = intrinsic value, and Nai = absence of). The best explanation of the difference between the two is;

  • Muda – Storing rotten food in the refrigerator. There is no value or use.
  • Mottainai – Throwing away food that is still good. There is still some use left.

There are two meanings to Mottainai in the Japanese culture;

  1. Regret about not utilizing something. This can be a regret about not using resources, talent or even time.
  2. Gratitude about kindness or thoughtfulness from others.

In the first context, children are often scolded in Japan for not eating all of their food. The act of scolding children for not eating all of their food is a global phenomenon and the reason generally given is about the starving people in the other parts of the world. However in the backdrop of mottainai, the scolding is about the lack of respect to all of the people who worked hard to produce the food. In the second context there is a sense of humility. People say “mottainai” when they receive blessings or help from their superiors or elders. They are grateful for the blessings or the good wishes, and they are proclaiming that they will not let those blessings go to waste. I will look deeper at the concept of Mottainai as it relates to Lean or the Toyota Production System.

Lean Implementations:

One of the oldest and strongest religions in Japan is Shintoism. The concept of Mottainai has roots in Shintoism. Shintoism teaches that everything has a spirit or soul, including inanimate objects. The idea of Mottainai stems from the belief that it is wrong to not fully use the intrinsic value of a thing, and teaches reverence for your personal things like katana and tea pot. Ignoring this will bring the “wrath” of the spirit of that object.

Hajime Oba, a Toyota veteran was once asked why other organizations cannot replicate Toyota’s success. He responded with an analogy that it is like trying to create a Buddha image without having the spirit of Buddha inside. He said

“What they are doing is creating a Buddha Image and forgetting to put soul in it.”

Simply copying the tools of lean without understanding your problems is Mottainai. As a Lean Leader, your responsibility is to first understand the problems you are trying to solve. This understanding becomes the soul or spirit.

Respect for People:

Respect for People (RfP) is one of the two pillars in Toyota Way. RfP has a strong connection with Mottainai. The inspiration for this article came from an article I read by Toshihiko Irisumi at the Lean-In website. He wrote;

“The fact that women managers are extremely rare in Japanese corporations is a wasteful (“mottainai”) reality for both talented women and for the future of corporations.”

I found the particular use of the word “Mottainai” qute interesting. This is a strong admonition from Irisumi. In the same light, engaging operators in non-value added activities is Mottainai. In the same line of thought, not engaging in the improvement activities is not showing respect to your management. This is wasting their trust in you and calls for Mottainai. Respect for people goes both ways!


Tomo Sugiyama, in his book “The Improvement Book”, talks about an improvement activity being a “problem-free Engineering” activity. One of the examples he gives is “Air Free” Engineering. Sugiyama was a Production Manager at Yamaha Motors, and one day he started staring at the shelves on the floor. The shelves were storing items in a random order with no thought. There were signs on the floor stating “Don’t store air!” He pointed out that there was lot of wasted space on the shelves and based on his advice the operators rearranged the shelves and was able to generate about 35% more space. Sugiyama may have potentially gotten rid of unwanted shelves and saved production floor space as well. The prior state resulted in wasted space, time and motion looking for things. Thinking in terms of Mottainai leads to kaizen.

Eighth Waste:

“Not utilizing others’ creativity” is often called the Eighth Waste in Lean. Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, identified only seven wastes in manufacturing. The eighth waste was later added by Lean practitioners. The concept of Mottainai puts the right perspective on this and identifies it as a wasteful activity – wasting talent and time!

Final Words:

The concept of Mottainai gives food for thought for a Lean Leader. I will finish off with a story that first talked about Mottainai. This is a story from the 12th century about Minamoto no Yoshitsune in the Battle of Yashima between the Tiara Clan and the Minomoto Clan.

Yoshitsune was on his horse and being chased by the enemies.  Yoshitsune accidentally dropped his bow. His bow was a low quality bow.

“Don’t pick up the bow, let it be”, one of his friends called out. Yoshitsune did not heed his words and went to retrieve his bow.

The Minomoto clan was victorious in the battle. Yoshitsune’s friend admonished him again for going after the bow and used the term “Mottainai” to state that it was a wasteful activity that could had gotten him killed. Yoshitsune’s life was after all more valuable than the bow.

Yoshitsune responded back that if the enemy had seen that inferior quality bow, it would had disgraced his clan and given hope to his enemies.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Labor Day.


Aim for System Optimization with Kaizen:


Kaizen is often translated as “Continuous Improvement” in Japanese and is identified as one of the core themes in lean. In today’s post I am looking at the question – can kaizen ever be bad for an organization?

In order to go deeper on this question, first we have to define kaizen as a focused improvement activity. The question at this point is whether we are optimizing the process. Merriam-Webster defines Optimization as;

Optimization – an act, process, or methodology of making something (as a design, system, or decision) as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible.

In my opinion, kaizen does not mean to optimize the process to 100% perfection. My point of contention on this is that kaizen should not be about local optimization. Local optimization means to optimize a process so that it is fully optimized without taking the whole system into consideration. This leads to tremendous waste. The local improvement should not cause a problem to an upstream or downstream activity. My best analogy is to work out the upper body without taking the lower body into consideration. This leads to a disproportionately developed body. In a similar vein, Prof. Emiliani views kaizen as a non-zero-sum activity – “everybody wins’!

Let’s look at an example. As part of a kaizen event at a hospital, the intake staff was able to make the client intake process very efficient. They were able to show that their improvement activities resulted in a much shorter time for client intake and they were able to get more clients in through the door. However, this caused more problems at the downstream processes. The staff at these processes were not able to serve the higher number of clients adequately which resulted in higher customer dissatisfaction and staff burn-outs.

Kaizen is a gradual and small incremental change towards the ideal state. The key point here is “ideal state”. How would you define “ideal state”? The “ideal state” means the ideal situation for the organization as a whole. Taiichi Ohno, the creator of Toyota Production System, said that “No standard = no kaizen.” The standard defines the process at its current goal and has three elements;

  1. Takt time – the defined rate of production to meet customer demand
  2. Sequence of work – the defined sequence of work to ensure safety, quality and efficiency
  3. Standard Work in Process – the defined inventory required to ensure that the takt time goal is met

Toyota’s goal is to improve overall efficiency and not local efficiency. This defines the goal of kaizen. Break the current state and create the new standard – while keeping the overall efficiency in mind. Ohno’s favorite way to challenge the current standard is by asking to use fewer operators to achieve the same required output.

Management’s Role:

What is Management’s role in all of this? Management has to lay the framework for everything to function properly. Dr. Deming, the pioneer of continuous improvement activities, says the following;

It is management’s job to direct the efforts of all components toward the aim of the system. The first step is clarification: everyone in the organization must understand the aim of the system, and how to direct his efforts toward it. Everyone must understand the danger and loss to whole organization from a team that seeks to become a selfish, independent, profit center.

Source: The New Economics, Dr. Deming.

Final Words:

It is important to view the improvement activities from a big picture standpoint. Viewing kaizen from a system standpoint is essential. I have always been curious about how the small incremental improvement activities would make a big difference in the end.  I will finish this post talking about the 800 year old Bronze statue of St. Peter holding the keys to Heaven in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

St Peter

It looks like St. Peter is wearing shoes on his right foot and sandals on the left foot. Over eight centuries, pilgrims have been touching his right foot that is more accessible (it sticks out more) and asking for blessings. No one has been rubbing on the foot or sanding it down.  There has been no complaint of vandalism or apparent damage to the statue. The simple act of touching and kissing over time worn the bronze statue down – that St. Peter lost all his toes on his right foot. It is said that the Church started requesting visitors to start touching the left foot more. It appears that the left foot has got a lot of catching up to do.


Always keep on learning…

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more here.

In case you missed it, my last post was Seneca’s “On Shortness of Life”.

Changing the Game – An Olympic Story:


It is the Olympics season right now. One of my favorite stories about the Olympics is about an underdog from Oregon, USA named Dick Fosbury. Fosbury won the gold medal for the High Jump in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. In those days, there were only a few different styles used for jumping. The main one was called the “Western Roll” where the athlete jumps forward with his face downward. Another style was called the “Scissors”, the oldest style of High Jump. This is where the athlete ran toward the bar and moved the legs in a “scissor” fashion to clear the bar. Fosbury chose the Scissors to be his style. His High School coach asked him to stop using the Scissors and to use the “Western Roll”. The Western Roll was the norm in those days and was used by the star athletes. Fosbury found no success with this. He was called the worst High Jumper in his school. He was getting frustrated, and intuitively he came up with a style that was not seen before. Rather than running straight and rolling “forward”, he ran in at an angle and jumped “backwards” which allowed him to move the bottom part of his body away from the bar. In his words;

“I take off on my right, or outside, foot rather than my left foot. Then I turn my back to the bar, arch my back over the bar and then kick my legs out to clear the bar.”


He was able to jump higher and higher with his method. The coach was not sure about the method, and even questioned whether the method was legal. He cautioned Fosbury that he was going to hurt his back. In those days, the athletes jumped into a big pile of saw dust. As luck would have it, Fosbury’s school installed a soft spongy landing pad at that time enabling him to perfect his style.

Fosbury went on to compete in the 1968 Olympics. As 80,000 spectators watched closely, Fosbury rocked back and forth, talking to himself and gaining confidence. It was also interesting to note that Fosbury wore different colored shoes. Fosbury slowly started running toward the bar and did what became to be known as the “Fosbury Flop”. He cleared 7 feet 4 1/4 inches to win the gold medal. His method was counterintuitive at that time. U.S. Olympic Coach Pat Jordan considered the Fosbury Flop to be dangerous and warned that it would “wipe out an entire generation of high jumpers because they will all have broken necks”. But the method was proven to be quite effective and the world of High Jump changed after that. Everybody started imitating him and improving their performance. Today the Fosbury Flop is considered to be the norm. All world record holders since 1980 used the Fosbury Flop to achieve their best performances.

Looking back, the scientists are able to explain that the Fosbury Flop is the ideal method for the high jump. The athlete is able to manipulate his center of gravity through this method to perform much higher (no pun intended) than any other method. Although Fosbury had an Engineering background, he came upon the method by accident. He was making the method work with his tall stature. His frustration with the standard methods of the day led him to find a new method.

Corollary in the Lean World:

The best form of kaizen happens when you are extremely dissatisfied with the current set of standards or if you are extremely lazy and want to find a better way of doing things. The spirit of kaizen is simply the thinking that there is always a better way of doing things. Fosbury was extremely dissatisfied with the methods in his days. In his words;

My assignment was to get over that damn bar. I was bound and determined not to quit. But I had to do something different.”

He knew that there was a better way and he found it. He explained that it was an iterative process. Once the method was proven, everybody wanted to copy it. Fosbury continued;

That day I was not trying to change the world. I was just trying to get over the bar.”

This is an important lesson for the Lean Leaders.

In a similar vein, Toyota started the Toyota Production System as a means to catch up with Germany and America. After the Second World War, Toyota realized that the productivity of the Japanese workforce was much less than their German and American counterparts. They tried to learn the norms of the day by visiting foreign manufacturing plants. But they came up with counterintuitive ways to achieve their goal slowly and steadily. They rearranged their factories to achieve better flow. They limited their work-in-process. They reduced the lot sizes and found ways to perform quick changeovers. For the painting operation, Toyota started using a paint cartridge system so that they can maintain small lot sizes. Toyota’s methods gained the attention of the world through the oil crisis in the 1970’s. Their process, Toyota Production System, became their Fosbury Flop which everybody wanted to emulate.

You can watch the Fosbury Flop performed by Dick Fosbury below.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Buy the Mountain Side.

Hot Dog!

hot dog

One of my favorite quotes from Eiji Toyoda, former President of Toyota, is;

“Don’t think mechanically. Even a dry towel can produce water when ideas are conceived.”

Eiji was talking about Kaizen. Toyota talks about “There is always a better way”. This is the spirit of kaizen…reaching higher and challenging ourselves to find a better way in everything we do… every single day.

I recently relistened to a Freaknomics podcast called “A Better Way to Eat”. In the podcast, the host Stephen Dubner talked with Takeru Kobeyashi, a Japanese competitive eater now living in America. When Kobi, as he is called by his fans, came into the field, the world record was 25 and 1/8th hot dogs in 12 minutes. Kobi blew the record out of water with his first appearance in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every July Fourth on Coney Island in New York. Kobi ate 50 hot dogs in the same amount of time, almost doubling the record. The contest has been going on for over 40 years and Kobi completely broke the paradigm. Many people were in denial and some even accused Kobi of doping.

In Dubner’s opinion, Kobi looked at the problem differently thus changing the field of competitive eating forever. The question that others were tackling was – how can I maximize the number of hot dogs I eat? The question that Kobi looked at was – how can I make one hot dog easier to eat?

Putting my Lean glasses on, this made me think about the mass production versus one-piece flow production paradigm. The thinking at that time was to simply eat more hot dogs without analyzing the process. Kobi, however focused on eating one hot dog and making that process easier. Kobi researched the sport and came up with several strategies that gave him a superior edge over the competition. Some of his strategies were to split the hot dog into two and eat with both hands; and the other was to dunk the bun into water, squeeze it into a ball and gulp it down. The splitting of the hot dog came to be known as the “Solomon Method” after the story of King Solomon who settled a maternity dispute by saying that he would cut a baby in half. Several competitors started copying Kobi’s strategies and were able to double their eating intake resulting in improved performances.

In the podcast, Kobi gave the following advice about breaking the more than 40 year old artificial barrier;

I think the thing about human beings is that they make a limit in their mind of what their potential is. They decide I’ve been told this, or this is what society tells me, or they’ve been made to believe something. If every human being actually threw away those thoughts and they actually did use that method of thinking to everything the potential of human beings is great, it’s huge, compared to what they actually think of themselves. That is a factor that…If everyone could use it for everything, everything could be much better.

Final Words:

There is a similar lesson from Jesse Itzler, author of Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet. The lesson is as follows;

When your mind is telling you you’re done, you’re really only 40 percent done.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Toyota, The Green Tomato.

Toyota, the Green Tomato:


Toyota is referred to as the #1 car manufacturer in the world today. Toyota sold 10.15 million vehicles worldwide in 2015 and remained the world’s top selling carmaker for the fourth straight year. I recently came across an interesting metaphor depicting Toyota that I have not heard used before. The book “Extreme Toyota” documented an interview with Jim Press, former President of Toyota Motor North America, in which he said that Toyota wants to be a green tomato. His point was as follows;

“Green tomatoes know their futures are still ahead of them, while red tomatoes quit growing”.

One of the authors of the book, Hirotaka Takeuchi, explained this further by saying that Toyota sees itself as always growing, and always incomplete. This way, Toyota accepts that there is room for improvement, and that “tomorrow will be better than today”.  Hirotaka used the working title of the book as “The Incomplete Company”.

The metaphor of a “green tomato” is beautifully deep and underlines the idea that being complacent is bad. Toyota has become the number one car company in the world. However, seeing itself as the top company is akin to being like the red ripe tomato which would soon fall off and rot. This same idea is repeated by the former President, Katsuaki Watanabe;

“At the very instant we become satisfied, at the very moment we think that the status quo is good enough, that’s when we start to decline.” He continued, “We’re still not there. There are a lot of things we need to do.”

Final Words:

Being complacent is being ignorant and being in denial. Being complacent urges you to remain in your comfort zone. Any new information that indicates that something is wrong does not get registered. As one of my wise friends once told me, once you are complacent, you get busy trying to put up the outward appearance that everything is fine. You create a picture in your mind that everything is great and you hold on to it. The more things that go wrong, the stronger you hold on to your ideal image and continue to be in denial. Be the green tomato, and think of yourself as “still a little more to go”.

I will finish this post with a great Zen Koan by the 1st century Zen master Linji Yixuan. He said;

“When you meet Buddha on the road, kill him”.

There is a little shock factor to this koan. But once you go deeper, there is a beautiful and profound lesson in this. The road is interpreted as your journey in search of enlightenment. The Buddha in the koan is our own idea of perfection and enlightenment. And if you think that you have attained enlightenment, you surely have not attained enlightenment. You have to “kill” that thought, and stay incomplete. Be like a green tomato.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Information at the Gemba.

Monument, Dynamo and Suitcase:


There is a concept in Lean called a “Monument”. This refers to a large machine, equipment or something similar that cannot be changed right away and so you have to plan your processes around it. This generally impedes the flow and frequently becomes a hindrance to your lean initiatives. A monument is the opposite of the “flow” and “no waste” concepts of lean. Monuments do not always refer to an equipment or similar hardware. The worst kind of monument can sometimes be the culture or the mental models prevalent in the company. This results in the following excuses;

  • It might work in Japan but not here.
  • But we have to do it this way.
  • This is how we have always done it, and this is how I was taught.
  • How does cutting down inventory help with my production?

The Story of the Productivity Paradox – Computer and Dynamo:

Paul David, an economic historian wrote a wonderful paper in 1989 called “Computer And Dynamo: The Modern Productivity Paradox In A Not-Too Distant Mirror”. In the paper, he talked about the first productivity paradox involving steam engines and electrical engines. The steam engine was an outcome of the Industrial Revolution in England. All of the factories were using steam engines as a source of energy. The steam engine required all of the equipment to be clustered around it. This was the most efficient way of running equipment since there was only one major steam engine and all of the equipment ran from the steam power. The electric motor was an outcome of the technological innovations in America.  Electricity was introduced to the factories as early as 1890. Everybody understood that electrical power is far more efficient than steam power. However, this did not result in an increase in productivity. The productivity remained fairly level even with the introduction of electrical power in to the factories. This was later termed as the “productivity paradox”.

The reason for the lack of increase in productivity was due to the factory layouts that were implemented for the steam engines. The Industrial Engineers replaced the steam engines with electrical engines. They did not rearrange the equipment to utilize the flexibility that was offered by the electric motor. They were constrained by their mental models. Even when new factories were built, they followed the layout that was being used with the steam engines. All of the equipment was clustered into one place hindering the flow. It is said that the factory layouts did not change for about 30 years when the old management was replaced with new management personnel. At this point, the layout was rearranged to follow the flow of materials, and this caused a spike in productivity. All of the engines had its own motor and this allowed the equipment to be spread apart from one another. Each operator was now in full control of his equipment. The monument was broken down since the management was not tied down to the old ways of thinking.

Final Words:

Everybody works from their own mental models. A company’s culture is a collection of these mental models at an equilibrium state. The Dynamo story teaches us the importance of learning from experiments and self-reflection. This is part of the “Check” face of the PDCA cycle. The feedback loop is the only way that one learns the best. I have heard that “we are going 70 miles per hour to get this done, and we do not have time to stop and change the tires.” We need to find time to step back and reflect. The system is trying to talk to you and we should heed its words. Sometimes we get caught up in the firefighting and we stay in that mode for a long time even though we keep fighting the same fires on a daily basis. The feeling of déjà-vu is an indication that we need to stop, step back and try to see the big picture. It is time to reflect.

I will finish off with a similar story about suitcases. I heard this first from my brother:

The “trunk” style of suitcases was the prominent form of luggage in the late 1800’s. People started traveling for leisure during the early 1900s which caused manufacturers to come up with new designs. These trunks were heavily built and weighed quite a lot. The term suitcase was introduced since these cases were used for holding suits. The suitcases became prominent in 1930s with the advent of commercial flights. Even at this time, they were not the light weight type that we have today. The addition of a wheel to the suitcase did not come till 1972. Up to that point, the suitcases were carried around by hand. The use of trolleys to transport luggage were seen as a sign of weakness. Even after the wheels were attached to the suitcases, it did not take off immediately. They were seen as mainly for stewardesses or women. Men were seen as wimpy if they used the wheel on the suitcase (talk about men-tal models!).


In about 1989 (after more than ten years of having wheels), a Northwest Airlines pilot named Bob Plath came up with a vertical case with extendable handles and two large wheels on the side.  It took another 15 years to have a 360 degrees spinning wheel to be on the suitcase. Samsonite introduced this model in 2004.

The suitcase is a fairly straightforward design, and it took us about 70 years to achieve our present state.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Dr. Deming and Value Stream Mapping.

Dr. Deming and Value Stream Mapping:


Value Stream Mapping (VSM) has become an essential part of Lean. There have been several books written specifically on this topic. VSMs are not widely spread at Toyota. VSM is a creation of Mike Rothers and John Shook. This was based on the “Material and Information Flow Maps” at Toyota. The VSM was created as a means to systematically roll out lean implementation, and looked at current and ideal states from a system standpoint. The intent was to give the “big picture view” that was missing from lean implementations. The Material and Information Flow maps were used by a few specialists at Toyota as part of line conversions, and these later were used to help suppliers view the production system as an end to end pull system ultimately ending with material delivery to Toyota.

Dr. Deming’s Flow Diagram:

Dr. Deming was invited to Japan by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) on July 15, 1950 to teach them about Quality Control. His teachings paved the way for a great change in regards to Quality in Japan. Dr. Deming taught the Japanese that production should be viewed as a system. The diagram below was taught first in August 1950 at a conference with top management at the Hotel de Yama on Mount Hakone in Japan.


Dr. Deming felt that his flow diagram was the spark in 1950 and onward that turned Japan around. It displayed production as a system to top management and engineers. He also viewed this as a type of diagram that showed the flow of materials and information. In his words;

To the make the flow diagram work, the flow of material and information from any part of the system must match the input requirements of the next stages. Thus, the aim in the flow diagram is for the material to come in at the front, and to emerge at the end as usable product or service. The flow diagram describes not only the flow of material, but also the flow of information needed to manage the system.

Source – “The New Economics For Industry, Government, Education” by Dr. Deming.

Dr. Deming described the diagram as a map for viewing the production system. He identified a feedback loop for continual improvement of products, services and continual learning, by keeping the consumer a part of the system.

Final Words:

It may be argued that Dr. Deming’s flow diagram is not similar to a Value Stream Map. However, I am positing that his lesson of seeing the system as a whole (end to end) laid the framework for the Material and Information Flow Maps. The first step of any implementation activity is to have a model of the system so that the cause and effect links in the system can be understood, first by theory and then by experiments. I will finish off with a funny Dr. Deming story;

One of Dr. Deming’s clients called him and said that he was having too many fires at his plant. Dr. Deming plotted the occurrences of fires on a control chart and determined that it was indeed a stable process.

“No, you are having just the right amount of fires,” he said, and then proceeded to explain the control chart to the client.

Source: Deming’s Profound Knowledge and Leadership, Carder and Monda.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Eight Lessons from Programming – At the Gemba.

Talking Trash:


In today’s post, I will be looking at how trash and waste are handled in Japan, and lessons in lean from this. There are not many public trash cans available in Japan. Yet, the cities in Japan are mostly clean. This is an interesting contrast when compared to America, where public trash cans are readily available in order to keep the streets clean.

The Lack of Trash Cans:

Japan has very limited space or land available for landfills. The main method of dealing with trash is incineration. It is estimated that about 80% of the garbage collected ends up in incinerators. In order to reduce garbage, Japanese officials in various towns and cities started implementing programs to increase recycling. This led to an interesting development. To aid recycling, the officials pushed the sorting to the source – the people. They introduced categories for sorting. Slowly the number of categories increased to double digit numbers. For example, the town of Kakimatsu in Shikoku has 44 different garbage categories. The sorting policies were strictly implemented, and those who did not comply were looked down upon. This led to public trash cans and garbage cans getting filled as part of people not wanting to sort. This may have led to the removal of several trash and garbage cans from the Japanese streets. The following is taken from the 2005 NYTimes article;

In Yokohama, after a few neighborhoods started sorting last year, some residents stopped throwing away their trash at home. Garbage bins at parks and convenience stores began filling up mysteriously with unsorted trash.

“So we stopped putting garbage bins in the parks,” said Masaki Fujihira, who oversees the promotion of trash sorting at Yokohama City’s family garbage division.

The garbage program is dealt with strictly. The peer pressure and the culture to fit in ensure that the program runs effectively. Additionally, there are “volunteers” who act as “leaders” and nudge the offenders to follow the program. It is encouraged that the trash bags are clear so that the trash is made visible. There is a cultural push to clean up after yourself and to be responsible.

Final Words:

Waste is a central theme in Lean. We are advised to eliminate waste in lean. There are many lessons that we can learn from the garbage program in Japan.

  • Everything should be based on a need- The program was put in place due to a lack of landfill space.
  • Tackle the problem at the source- The program put the responsibility at the source (the person throwing away the trash).
  • Auditing is an important aspect of any system (by your next customer or from an outside person)- For a system to sustain the auditing function is an important step.
  • Anticipate how the program can fail- the removal of public trash cans was done in response to people bringing trash from home and putting them in the public bins.
  • Any program requires people to participate in order to succeed.

As a side note, Toyota has been pursuing a zero landfill goal. As part of this, Toyota Engineering and Manufacturing of North America took away trash cans from its 1400 employees. This was described as a learning curve for the employees. The outcome of this move was that it created awareness about waste and a change in attitude.

The purging of the waste cans was a small but significant step toward Toyota’s zero-landfill goal. And Toyota has indeed achieved the goal (zero landfill is defined as diverting at least 95 percent of all waste away from landfills and into recycling or reuse).  It was one thing to reach the goal at the TEMA offices in Erlanger, where most people work at desk jobs.  Quite another to go zero landfill at its 12 manufacturing plants in North America, where they make cars, engines, auto parts and other things traditionally thought of as dirty manufacturing. Toyota has achieved that at all but two of its plants, and those  two are 97 percent of the way there. (From the article)

The other side of this is the point-of-use approach used widely elsewhere in the USA. Philadelphia is introducing a bill to require trash cans within 10 feet from the entrance of any business that sells prepared food for consumption off-premises. This is being done as a means to tackle the waste problem in the city. These seemingly two different approaches to tackle trash are interesting to say the least. The point-of-use is also an important tool used in lean to ensure that the operator has everything he needs in his reach.

I will finish off with an anecdote about Walt Disney. It is said that the average distance between two trash cans in any parks operated by Disney is 30 feet. This is based on the “study” performed by Walt Disney himself. As part of the planning he did for his parks, he ate a hot dog and he found that he took 30 steps before he was all done. He came to the conclusion that to meet the customers’ needs, he needed a trash can every 30 steps. This way the customer did not have to hold onto the trash.

Always keep on learning…

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more here.

In case you missed it, my last post was Take Pride in Your Work – Ji Kotei Kanketsu.

Take Pride in Your Work – Ji Kotei Kanketsu:


As a Quality professional, I am always interested in how “Quality” is handled in the Toyota Production System. A “Quality model” that Toyota uses is “Ji Kotei Kanketsu” or JKK. “Ji” in Japanese means “self”, “kotei” means “process” and “kanketsu” means “completion”. Putting all the words together, JKK means “Completion of your own work”. JKK has also been translated as “taking pride in what you are doing”, “not passing defects along to the next process”, or “next process is your customer”. The idea that the next process is your customer was something that Kaoru Ishikawa, the Japanese Quality Master, talked about a lot as part of the Total Quality Control movement.

Customer First:

JKK was initiated by Toyota as a means to increase employee awareness about quality. Every process after your process depends on your level of quality. They are all your customers. The concept of JKK is present in all facets of Toyota. JKK starts with the Engineering group through the product design and specifications – the best possible design. This is followed by Purchasing – ensuring quality components from suppliers. This is then followed by Production – maintaining and controlling the standardized work. Finally, Sales and Marketing – early detection and resolution of any potential problems. The model below is taken from the Toyota website.


Toyota describes the EDER (Early Detection, Early Resolution) program as follows;

EDER is a communication system for quickly detecting quality issues, immediately resolving issues, and swiftly providing results of rectification and kaizen feedback to customers.

Toyota teaches JKK as part of kaizen, continuous improvement. By focusing on your process and looking at the weak points in the process, you are identifying areas for improvement. JKK is practiced by the following four steps;

  1. First, clarify target and objective of task
  2. Clarify detailed procedure of task
  3. Clarify Ryohin jyoken (quality points)
  4. Immediately contact your supervisor, if a problem and/or delay may occur (pull Andon) and repeat Kaizen.

The Big Picture:

There is a counterintuitive aspect to JKK. By focusing on your own operation, you are required to focus on the next process – to ensure that the next process is successful. Thus, JKK is instilling a big picture mindset – a system approach in the employees.

Final Words:

The concept of Jidoka, is embedded in JKK. The ability to stop the line to fix the problem is the basis of building in quality. JKK is ensuring Quality Assurance in everybody’s work. Quality is defined as meeting customer’s requirements. Thus, customer satisfaction is the outcome of quality. In this regard, every Quality professional can be viewed as a customer service personnel.

I will finish off with an anecdote from the late founder of Matsushita Electric Industries, Konosuke Matsushita.

Matsushita was having a conversation with a western executive, and the discussion led to customers and treating customers like kings.

“No, that is wrong”, Matsushita said. “The customer is a god. Because, a king is a human, and thus capable of making mistakes. But a god does not make mistakes!”

Source: The Shift to JIT, Ichiro Majima.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Giving Time for Kaizen to Work.

Giving Time for Kaizen to Work:

time for kaizen

In today’s post I will look at kaizen and the need to allow time for an improvement to work. I am sometimes at fault about needing things to work immediately. This is a form of instant gratification – the desire to experience the results immediately. There are mainly two forms of kaizen discussed in lean literature – kaizen (small improvements) and innovation (drastic change usually involving equipment or technology). There are also medium sized improvements, and most of the time these do not result in an improvement in productivity immediately.

Shigeo Shingo and Lillian Gilbreth:

Shigeo Shingo was a consultant trainer at Toyota, and he specialized in Industrial Engineering. Shingo has written several books regarding TPS. In his book, “Key Strategies for Plant Improvement” he talked about the importance of allowing time for improvement activities to work. He referenced the “tabletop experiments” by Lillian Gilbreth as part of this. Alan Robinson along with his wife Margaret, wrote a great paper on the tabletop experiments called “On the Tabletop Improvement Experiments of Japan”. This paper talked about the contributions of Lillian Gilbreth and how her training materials were extensively used by the Japanese, and eventually by Shingo as part of his training at Toyota.

Shingo’s thinking was that the operators need to be familiar with the operation to truly feel that they are easy to do. If the steps are not familiar they have to exert their mind to think of what to do next, and this leads to mental fatigue, and thus may not result in an improvement in productivity.

Shingo discussed two experiments (Lillian had created more experiments) in his book. In the first experiment, the operator was required to write “production engineering” on 15 cards. This was a familiar phrase for the operator, and the productivity remained stable – all the cards took about the same time. The second experiment required the operator to skip every other letter, thus he was to write “poutoegneig”. The only stipulation was that he could not look at his previous work. From a work load standpoint, the number of letters were now about halved, thus it should had been a lot easier. However, the operator took a lot more time than the first experiment initially since he had to exert more time to think. After seven trials, he was able to write the word faster since he grew familiar with the phrase. The fifteenth card took about half the time as the first experiment.

Final Words:

The more I learn about Lillian Gilbreth, the more admiration I have for her. I have written about her before. The improvements may not immediately result in an increase in productivity. It is important that you understand that as part of kaizen, a certain amount of time is needed for practice to truly result in the improvement. The challenge here is – the old ways appear easier since the operator is familiar with it. Thus he may oppose the change even if it might actually reduce the work content and reduces the non-value added activities. It might be beneficial to have a standard amount of time for “sticking with the kaizen” to try it out. Rely on your data collected at the Gemba.

I will finish off with a Zen story I like a lot. This story is about how we perceive our experiences;

A student went to see his meditation teacher and said, “My situation is horrible! I feel so distracted most of the time, or my legs ache, or I’m repeatedly falling asleep. It’s terrible.” Said the teacher matter-of-factly, “It will pass.”

A week later, the student returned to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so ecstatically joyous and alive!” The teacher told him, “It will pass.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was PDCA and the Roads to Rome.