A letter to Bill Gaw from Jim Womack
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
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
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:
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
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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