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February 2004

Most of us who have been involved in the implementation of Lean Manufacturing have come up against the same hard reality somewhere along the way. Kaizen events have been successful in achieving significant and convincing results, but the improvements are difficult to sustain. Team members from the shop floor were involved as well as supervisors and managers but ownership is poor and follow-up just doesn't seem to work.

Richard Abercrombie
Lean Promotion
There are reasons for this, of course. People naturally resist change even when it's good for them, and this mindset causes them to backslide and abandon improvement. And even when people believe that things need to change and they want to improve, they don't have basic skills and experience at making improvements. Kaizen events alone don't seem to be effective in developing these skills and they take too long to involve and teach everyone about Lean. It seems to get harder and harder to motivate people and get them excited about making improvements. Surprisingly, people get the impression that a big deal kaizen event is necessary for even the simplest of improvements and so they wait for the next one. Managers and supervisors often leave improvement until after "making the numbers" and don't get involved in setting improvement targets. Or, worse yet, managers start to use improvement as a firefighting hose and they don't even do it themselves; they call out the "Lean Team" experts instead. "There seems to be a problem getting stuff through receiving. Let's get those Lean guys in there and have a kaizen blitz to reduce the takt time and get back on schedule!"

But these are not the real reasons for the difficulties in getting Lean to stick. The root cause of these roadblocks is the failure of management - and particularly senior level leaders - to understand Lean Manufacturing as a comprehensive approach to manufacturing and management. Lean is not simply a set of concepts, principles and techniques which can be implemented by command and control through a top down process. It is a fully integrated manufacturing and management philosophy and approach which has to be practiced throughout the organization. A genuine desire and commitment by leadership is not enough to succeed if they overlook how the management system itself must be changed in order to be consistent and integrated with the new principles and techniques being introduced.

Lean Manufacturing emphasizes a shop floor focus because all value-added activities start on the shop floor. This is also the best place to begin transforming the management system. In a Lean environment it's the job of management to support team members, and production team members appreciate management on the shop floor only when they can see that they are out there to help them do their jobs, not as part of a command and control structure bent on telling them what to do. So this places the supervisor, or team leader, in a pivotal position within the management system.

To fulfill this Lean role on the shop floor, a supervisor has five needs: knowledge of work and responsibilities, and skill at instructing, improving methods, and leading people.

Knowledge of Work is unique and it differs from work to work. In a production line, for example, it would include what you know about materials, machines, tools and production processes. Even in a routine job, it is important to increase this knowledge day by day. If we make a new product or change our production methods, we need to acquire a new type of knowledge. A supervisor needs to know well the work he or she is asking team members to perform.

Knowledge of Responsibilities relates to the necessary responsibilities and authority a supervisor holds. This knowledge consists of company policies, agreements, regulations, safety rules, production plans, sales plans, interdepartmental relationships, etc. Each supervisor needs to understand completely the responsibilities and authority given them.

Skill in Instructing is an essential skill that helps to train team members so that they can quickly begin to work on their own. Proper job instruction helps to reduce the number of defects, rejects and rework. It helps to reduce the number of accidents and the amount of equipment and tool damage. A supervisor needs to establish standard work and ensure that each team member is able to perform standard work correctly.

Skill in Improving Methods enables supervisors to utilize more effectively the workforce, machines and materials that are now available to achieve greater production of good quality products. This is based on breaking down work into small parts so that the details can be examined. By eliminating, combining and rearranging or simplifying these details, improvements can be found. Each supervisor needs to monitor the performance of standard work and as conditions change and problems are found, ensure that countermeasures are devised and standard work is redefined.

Skill in Leading people allows supervisors to have good relationships among team members. Since the result of a supervisor's work depends on the output of others, gaining cooperation is crucial. With a foundation of good relationships morale is assured so that team members do what the supervisor needs done, at the time it needs to be done, and in the way it needs to be done because they want to do it. A supervisor has the key role for gaining the participation and involvement of everyone in continuous improvement.

These five needs are nothing new. In fact, it's what good supervisors have always done well. Because they are basic to the important and complex role of supervisors, it is important to make sure that all supervisors have this knowledge and these skills. But just like common sense is not always common practice, supervisors are often not well grounded in these basics.

The need for knowledge of work and responsibilities is unique to each company and their circumstances, therefore, supervisors learn these locally. But the skills of instruction, improving methods and leadership are the same no matter what the company or industry. Many supervisors have learned these skills through the Training Within Industry program.

TWI was developed in the United States during WWII in response to an urgent need to increase production to unprecedented levels. After the war, the program was discontinued when US companies, fueled by growing markets and minimal competition, directed their energies elsewhere. But TWI was exported to Japan to where it played a vital role helping to quickly rebuild their industrial base as a deterrent to social unrest. The TWI program became and continues to be, an integral part of the Toyota Production System. Today, Job Methods is recognized as the foundation for Kaizen and the Kaizen Teian suggestion system.

TWI consists of three standardized programs that cover essential skills needed by all supervisors and team leaders, regardless of their industry: Skill in Instruction, Skill in Improving Methods, and Skill in Leading. Each of the courses is structured in the same way-five two-hour sessions with 10-12 trainees, all supervisors and foremen. In the first session of each course, the instructor presents a real-world problem that everyone can easily relate to and shows the poor ways in which these problems are usually handled. Then, the TWI "4-Step Method", one for each of the three programs, is given to show how supervisors can handle such problems more effectively to gain better results. After the first session or two spent on learning methods, the remaining course time is given to actual and current problems brought in by each supervisor for analysis and solution using the TWI 4-Step Method. This "learning by doing" concept forms the key to the TWI teaching method.

Job Instruction Training (JIT) teaches supervisors proper workforce training techniques. The objective of the course is to help supervisors develop a well-trained workforce: have less scrap, rework, and rejects; have fewer accidents; have less tool and equipment damage. The method emphasizes preparing the operator to learn, giving a proper demonstration while identifying the Important Steps and the Key Points of the job, having the operator perform a trial run, and tapering off coaching while continuing to follow up.

Job Methods Training (JMT) teaches supervisors how to improve the way jobs are done. The aim of the program is to help produce greater quantities of quality products in less time by making the best use of the manpower, machines, and materials now available. To do that, supervisors are taught to break down jobs into their constituent operations, to question each of these details (why? what? where? when? who? how?), to develop the new method by eliminating, combining, rearranging and simplifying these details, and to apply the new method selling it to everyone involved.

Job Relations Training (JRT) teaches supervisors how to understand people on all levels and deals with the leadership issues of motivation and problem solving. The course emphasizes that people must be treated as individuals and gives supervisors foundations for developing and maintaining good relations in order to prevent problems from arising. However, when problems do arise, it teaches supervisors to get the facts, weigh and decide, take action, and check results with the key issue being whether the action helped production or not.

Each of the TWI courses has been designed to initiate a "multiplier effect" so that the program delivery can be taught to even non-training personnel who can then train the courses to others by using a standardized teaching method. In this way, organizations can develop their own in-house trainers and present the courses whenever needed.

Last year in Japan, Toyota trained 1,360 selected employees at the elementary level in Job Instruction (JI). At the intermediate level, 1,170 employees were given JI training. And 660 employees who advanced to the expert level were also trained in JI - in other words, employees at the expert level were trained in Job Instruction three times. Job Methods (JM) is not singled out as such by Toyota but is done daily as needed, as part of their continuous improvement culture. Last year Toyota trained 2,730 people at the elementary level and 3,440 at the intermediate level.

TWI was reintroduced into the United States in September 2001 by a NIST MEP center in Syracuse, NY that was looking for a countermeasure to the hard realities companies could not overcome when implementing lean. In partnership with a TWI Master Trainer with over 20 years experience delivering TWI all over the world for Japanese companies, the program has quickly caught hold and is now well entrenched in Central New York and has spread to Maryland, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas. It is now available in western United States through Lean Promotion.

The importance of TWI is a key managerial lesson about how Toyota fought its way through 30 years of battles with resistance to invent the Toyota Production System. While this lesson is still not very well known in the Lean community almost everyone who embarks on the journey to adopt TPS runs into the same issues, because they are inherent in the process. Lean Manufacturing will reveal waste, inconsistencies and problems in the management system just as readily as it will in a manufacturing process. And TWI is an effective countermeasure to these hard realities.

You can learn more about the TWI program and the successes companies are experiencing to get their Lean initiatives back on track by visiting the following web sites:


Richard Abercrombie is the owner and a senior consultant of Lean Promotion, an independent network of Lean Manufacturing professionals experienced in Toyota Production System implementation. Richard has an extensive background of implementing Lean Manufacturing in brownfield conditions. His knowledge and understanding of Lean Manufacturing were gained first hand through the initial guidance of former members of Taiichi Ohno's Autonomous Study Group both in Japan and the US, and then through hands-on guidance of countless team-based shop floor improvement activities.

Richard is a certified Training Within Industry trainer and is active in creating greater awareness and understanding of this important and fundamental practice within the Lean community.

Richard can be emailed at

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