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A letter to Bill Gaw from Jim Womack


(In fact, this knowledge is Toyota's great advantage in concurrently and rapidly developing new products and processes: At this point, most of Toyota's production processes are highly standardized and fully documented. Most new product designs only need to comply with well-understood process requirements to launch as smoothing flowing streams.  By contrast, most organizations I visit have poorly documented processes with weak standards and little real knowledge of trade-offs in designing a process one way versus another. They will need a lean leap in consciousness and practice in order to catch up.)

Once the best process is determined, which may result in changes to the product design as well, the next step is to finalize equipment designs and information management systems.

Finally, it's time to develop standard work for every step in the value stream and standard management for the whole value stream. This includes a training plan for every employee, a plan for every part, and a maintenance plan for every piece of equipment.

If all of these actions have been completed by the start of production, the value stream should be very lean from the first item delivered. Kaizen will still be important, based on hansei (or reflection) about the performance of the process once operating, but it can start from a higher level in a more stable process so that additional rapid improvement is actually easier.

It's my feeling that many organizations are now ready to elevate their level of play. As I hope I've made clear, this is not by de-emphasizing the idea of kaizen, but by performing the PDCA process that is at the heart of kaizen inside the development process. This will insure that every new value stream for every new product commences its productive life as a very lean stream.

Given the steady reduction in the length of product lives, I believe that it will become ever more important to achieve "process quality at the source". Otherwise, the product may be ready to go out of production before process problems are ever addressed through kaizen as rework.

Best regards,

Jim Womack
Chairman and Founder
Lean Enterprise Institute

P.S. My thoughts about pre-emptive kaizen have been spurred over the years by the work of the late Allen Ward on lean product and process development. I hope you will find his thinking, described in the recent LEI publication Lean Product and Process Development, useful in your own thinking about moving to the next level of leanness. Please go to: http://www.lean.org/Bookstore/ProductDetails.cfm?SelectedProductID=159 for details on Allens insightful work.

P.P.S. Let me add a final note on "lean grammar";

While writing this letter about kaizen Ive been reminded of the jarring note I always hear when someone tells me they have conducted many "kaizens" (meaning kaizen projects) in their organization. This jars because there are no plural forms for nouns in Japanese. Now that I've gotten used to this departure from English practice I find I like it and it's the convention I always use. For example, I find myself saying: "You have completed many kaizen since I last visited."

In my view, every English speaker in the Lean Community should feel free to add "s"s to form the plurals of kaizen, kaikaku, gemba, kanban, obeya, sensei, shusa, muda, poka-yoke, andon, etc. if it feels right. But everyone should also feel free -- like me -- not to. Feel free to forward this message to suppliers, customers, or colleagues who are implementing lean - or should be.

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