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Quick and Easy Kaizen

May, 2003

The Toyota Production System now commonly called Lean manufacturing is based on an "all out war against waste. " Waste is that which does not add value to the end product or to the customer. It is defined as:

  • Transportation - moving things
  • Producing defects causing scrap or rework
  • Inspection is necessary but doesn't add value and can be reduced.
Norman Bodek
Norman Bodek
PCS Inc.
  • Having excess inventory, especially work in process inventory
  • Set-up time
  • Waiting time or delays and storage - either people or material
  • Unnecessary Motion
  • Producing ahead or behind schedule, overproduction, not processing correctly
  • Excess costs, excess overhead
  • Underutilization of people's talents and knowledge, not encouraging people to be creative

I believe most reader's of NWLEAN have a good handle on the first nine listed above but seem to be lacking on the the last item (under utilizing talent/knowledge). People come to work, develop their skills, are assigned tasks to do but are rarely asked ever to use their brains.

Around 10 years ago Woody Morcott then chairman and CEO of Dana Corporation, a large automotive parts manufacturer, returned from a visit to Japan with a very powerful discovery. He said, "Why did we hire 55,000 brains and only use three of them. You know, Norman, we never asked those four magic words, What do you think?" Dana at that time sent over 200 of their managers and engineers to Japan to study Japanese management practices. They learned very well as Dana probably is now one of the best practitioners of Lean in America. Many of their plants supply Toyota on a just-in-time basis. Woody learning from Toyota in Japan asked every employee at Dana to submit two improvement ideas in writing per month with 80% to be implemented.

Even the current chairman Joe Magliochetti submits at a minimum two improvement ideas each month. This is a very simple process but it easily misunderstood:

  1. It is not difficult to manage - the employee who is faced with a problem, discovers an improvement idea, presents it to their supervisor, implements it alone or with their team members, and writes up the idea to share with other employees.
  2. It is not a burden to management to manage. Yes, you can handle 24 ideas per employee per month - the worker and the supervisor do most of the work. As Gary Smuda said at Technicolor, "Most of us come from past cultures where we are the fireman all of the time. Well now I have 450 firemen out there putting out fires and they are not coming to my door saying we have a problem. They are knocking on my door and saying well we had a problem and this is how we fixed it - that is really cool. "
  3. It is not a problem for the ISO standardization process since most of the ideas are very small and will not affect your standards.
  4. It is not costly to administer and doesn't require high rewards. Most companies feel that improvement is really a part of everyone's job and doesn't require further rewards. At most Dana plants they just put a copy of the submitted idea into a barrel at the end of the month and pull out a few winners. At the Dana Stockton California plant they generated a lot of improvement ideas when they offered the winner of the month. "Two free tickets to a Raider football game."
  5. It is not a game just to stimulate people to be more alert and to feel better about their jobs. This does happen but Quick and Easy Kaizen is a powerful method to empower people to make their work easier, more interesting and to also participate in reducing costs, improving quality, improving safety, improving throughput, improving customer service and also improving morale.

Quick and Easy Kaizen is the "heart" of the Lean system. It gets all employees involved and helps sustain your efforts.

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

Toyota studied carefully the Ford production system. Taiichi Ohno VP at Toyota who along with Dr. Shigeo Shingo created JIT/LEAN claimed that he got his ideas from the original Henry Ford who was able in 1926 to produce a car in four days from iron ore coming out of the ground to the finished car going out to the customer.

And Toyota also studied the original American suggestion system first developed in 1898 at Kodak. But like Ford Motor, Kodak changed their system from an employee involvement system to a cost savings system and eventually dropped it. They like many other American companies found that most ideas submitted were ideas for other people to do something. It wasn't Quick and Easy Kaizen.

SMED, Poka-Yoke, Kanban, Kaizen Blitz, TPM, cellular manufacturing, and the other parts of the Toyota's system are all key elements for success but to insure that Lean does not become just another "flavor of the month" you must insure that all employees are continuously involved in improvement activities. Since changes occur almost daily in this highly competitive world you will always be faced with new technology, new challenges and new problems to solve.

An employee on Technicolor's DVD packaging line stood there all day just closing the top, one top after the other. One day he thought of an idea that would automatically close the top without him. He went to his supervisor and showed him his idea to place two pieces of wood covered with cardboard next to the line. It worked very well. Of course, he was praised, thanked and was given another job to do.

Maybe, in time an engineer would have noticed what the worker noticed and made the change. Maybe. Now this was a small idea that did have a big effect. It probably saves Technicolor $30,000 a year. However, most of the ideas submitted by people are very simple, but important to them and it is the collection of all of these ideas that moves the company forward.

At Possis Medical in Minneapolis a person pasted two pieces of Velcro on the wall in the meeting room and also put Velcro on the LCD remote controller. Now everyone knows where to place the controller and also where to find it when they need it.

Both of these are small ideas but imagine when you get 24 similar ones each year per employee. It generates real excitement on the job and brings positive change to your company.

I first wrote about JIT in 1980 and many people in America are just adapting the ideas in 2003. I hope it doesn't take another 23 years for people to understand the power of Quick and Easy Kaizen.

Norman Bodek is the president of PCS Inc. and brought to America many of the Japanese manufacturing concepts. His most recent book is The Idea Generator - Quick and Easy Kaizen. If you are interested in learning more about having an in-house Quick and Easy Kaizen workshop to get you started please contact NWLEAN ( For a copy of Norman's book The Idea Generator - Quick and Easy Kaizen go to

Editors Note: The Idea Generator - Quick and Easy Kaizen was the NWLEAN Book of the Month for November and December of 2001! NWLEAN members can purchase this book at for only $47.52 by clicking on THIS LINK.

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