The best business lessons are learned first-hand
There is no better way to improve understanding than to go directly to the source – and the source of the hugely successful Lean Thinking is Japan. Toyota developed it to drive their global success and the rest of the world is still striving to learn from its example.
New Zealand’s own multimillion dollar construction company Calder Stewart is just one local business looking to learn from the Japanese Lean experts. HR manager Denise Cooper recently returned from an intensive tour of Japan focused on learning more and seeing the application of Lean Thinking across a range of industries.
“We began implementing Lean Thinking principles into our business two or three years ago, and I actually thought I understood the principles. However after everything I saw and experienced in Japan, I now realise that my understanding was very limited – and a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
“In the companies we visited, everyone lives and breathes Lean Thinking. They don’t get up in the morning and go to work and do it for part of the day. It’s part of their mindsets, it’s the company culture.”
Hosted by Simply Lean Business Solutions and Shinka Management, the six-day tour included a series of lectures, workshops and factory visits, including extensive training sessions at Toyota’s dedicated training centre, which provides training for Toyota employees in the principles and application of the Toyota Production System (Lean Thinking).
“Lean Thinking philosophies centre on delivering quality goods and services at the best price, quickly and efficiently, by identifying problems and empowering employees to create innovative solutions to eliminate waste,” says Peter Cox, director of Simply Lean Business Solutions.
“Lean is applicable beyond just manufacturing. It’s about businesses being clear about what their customers value and developing a culture where everyone is focused on eliminating waste from all processes so they can deliver true value.”
Cooper says one of the key principles she saw value in was the adoption of a more collaborative approach rather than the traditional command and control management model.
“Giving people on the ground more autonomy and power to engage has so many benefits – more often than not, they are the ones who have the solutions to a problem and this frees up senior leaders to focus on more strategic issues. Solutions also affect everyone in the food chain and often people on the ground are in the best position to see how.
“In Japan, they rely a lot on visuals. In one factory there was a huge whiteboard showing the issues and the countermeasures, visible to everyone. This makes it transparent and is much more effective than a long boring meeting involving senior leaders who then rely on ineffective communication channels to spread the message.
“At every business we visited, the staff demonstrated a huge amount of pride in their facility and processes. Especially at Metal One, which is part of the Isuzu Group, everyone was beaming; there is a real team spirit because every person has a sense of being part of the process and therefore has pride in the end product.”
Cooper joined 12 other Kiwis on the tour as well as participants from Australia and Europe, and like the others, she has returned with a clear action plan to harness all she and those before her have learned.
“I’m not the first from Calder Stewart to do the tour. The company has recognised the benefits in that we can all work from the same page now.
“The visit made all the light bulbs go off in my head. I knew the principles and I knew the theory but now it just all makes sense, now I can apply what I know and make real improvements to the business.”