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Continuous Improvement - A Three Legged Stool (TQM - LEAN - Quick and Easy Kaizen)
By Norman Bodek

You might be familiar with TQM and Lean as two of the very important parts to continuous improvement and hopefully you will soon be aware that continuous improvement requires another vital part which we call Quick and Easy Kaizen.

In 1957, Donald Frey who became a Vice-President and Chief Engineer at Ford said when he saw the first Toyota Crown that it was “a heap of junk.” It was in the 1950s that Eiji Toyoda visited Ford in America to study the latest ideas in car production. He stayed there for several weeks and, as a result, within a decade Toyota had totally transformed its working practices, increasing productivity and becoming one of the most efficient factories in the world.

“It must be said this was not the only reason. Much of this metamorphous can be attributed to the “suggestion system”, whereby the company invites workers to suggest ways of improving production. This system is still in use today. In 1993, for instance, more than 900,000 ideas were submitted, with almost all of them adopted!” From the book “Lexus - The challenge to create the finest automobile” by Brian Long

How in the world can Toyota manage 900,000 ideas in a year? Easy! You don’t manage it. You simply follow a process:

The Process

1. Notice a problem – write it down.
2. Get an improvement idea – talk to your supervisor.
3. Supervisor reviews it – you get the go ahead.
4. You implement the idea.
5. You write up the idea on a form.
6. Submit the form to share with others.

It is so simple you wonder why it hasn’t been done here before. I reminds me of the story told by Woody Morcott, past CEO of Dana Corporation, “Norman, I came back from Japan and thought, why did we hire 55,000 brains and only use three of them.” Of course, this is a little facetious. Woody also said, “We just didn’t ask those four magic works – What do you think?” And then Woody did ask all of Dana’s employees to submit two ideas a month in writing. And since 1990 Dana has continued to receive on the average two ideas per employee per month.

We rarely ask people for their ideas. We tell them just come to work and do their job and leave the problem solving to us. But, what a difference when you ask everyone to participate in solving problems:

Here’s how Gary Smuda, a plant manager from the Technicolor Corporation summed it up: “Empowering employees to be problem solvers is one of the most neglected areas of Lean management. Most of us come from past corporate cultures where managers are the only firemen. Well, now I have 450 firemen and women putting out the fires -- and they are not coming to my door saying we have a problem. Instead, they are knocking on my door and saying this is how we fixed this problem – which is awesome!”

So if you are like most companies trying to get continuous improvement with only two legs on your stool consider finding more about Quick and Easy Kaizen.


Norman Bodek is a consultant and the author of The Idea Generator – Quick and Easy Kaizen – a process developed in Japan to foster creative involvement of all employees.

Idea Generator, The: Quick and Easy Kaizen
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