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Mission Statement



We are involved in the manufacturing business. Itfs probably safe to say that any profit we earn is tied directly to the work done on the floor, and the sales we achieve. When the people employed on the floor feel neither a will to work nor a sense of worth, then the future for our business is bleak.

That is the essence of what I explained to Mr. Seki shortly before he became president of Isuzu Motors, in 1990. And it is this premise that informs the Kaizen Management Philosophy, an approach to manufacturing management that Mr. Seki in fact did adopt as president of Isuzu\soon after he assumed office he issued the decree, gThe Floor is Number One!h\and it is what I write about here.

The Goal of Kaizen
Create a manufacturing or production area that has energy and vitality, and which

  1. respects employees
  2. provides them the will to want to work and, by doing this
  3. enhances their feeling of self-worth.

The Rationale for Kaizen

For many of us, to a certain degree, often to large measure, our self-worth flows from our jobs. For this reason, when people who are employed on a shop floor believe that they are supplying their company nothing more than their labor, then I assert that they are simply plodding through their work life, their larger lives are lacking self-worth and, importantly, their company will consequently suffer. To be sure, a clean work environment and good wages can provide satisfaction on some level; however, this sense of life satisfaction--this sense of self-worth--can be deepened and sustained only when employees feel that their will is helping to contribute towards positive change, when they are working as and feel part of a team.

A manufacturing plant that uses its operatorsf labor only, employs a work force without a sense of worth, and it operates under a weak and ultimately self-defeating management structure. In order for this plant to be successful in the long term, in order to make stronger the management structure and thereby increase profitability going forward, those who are going to lead us--the operators on the floor--must play a central role in wanting and implementing Kaizen. They must have the will and desire, and a clear goal, to change their work area; existing problems must be acknowledged. And this will create workers who are full of vigor and vitality.

As Kaizen is implemented, it is crucial that the main focus be on the floor--gThe Floor is Number One!h--and that staff people/middle management and those in other supporting roles understand that their important purpose is to support these employees. Sadly, most factories fail to place emphasis and attention on the floor; rather, middle management seems blindly driven to please their superiors and along the way, by design or not, they alienate and discourage the very people Kaizen is supposed to help.

My Own Kaizen Experience

Years ago, when I worked at Isuzufs Tsurumi plant, I was fortunate to report to an understanding plant manager who granted me permission to do what I thought needed to be done. (Although the Tsurumi plant had been doing Kaizen, e.g., one-piece-fabrication, one-piece-flow, single-digit-changeover, prior to his arrival, real Kaizen began under him.) I decided to concentrate on Kaizen activities that placed the main focus of the work on the shop floor.

When I began at the Tsurumi plant there was movement underway throughout Isuzu to make clerical work more efficient. I decided to build on that initiative by first orienting the staff people to Kaizen. I convened the staff people and asked them, gWhat is the real work that you should be doing?h The answers varied and ranged from, for example, gathering information about production to sending information to the Kawasaki plant, from tracking machine downtime to maintenance planning. I replied that all of this type of work--the calculating, editing, and gathering of various types of information--should be done by computers/machines, not people. People should instead devote their energy to doing creative work: concentrating on how to change the structure of the work area they manage, thinking about how to improve quality and increase productivity, and so on.

Based on the staff peoplefs input, I began to create computer programs (to run on PCs) that sorted the flow of all of this information, especially general clerical information. I trained people how to create additional computer programs that could, over time, do that work which they had been doing previously. Those whom I trained became responsible for training the rest of their departments. The new PC-based system was operating fully within the year. It was deemed to be innovative enough that we were invited to present the concept at the National PC Association conference. We proved that office staff themselves, given the opportunity and the means, could revolutionize clerical and secretarial work, and thereby free themselves to better concentrate on helping to revolutionize the shop floor. I next turned to making that shop floor more autonomous and vibrant.

The goal was to get the shop floor workers to understand that their jobs were not only to supply their labor, but also to imagine and implement ways to improve the quality of the work they did. Achieving this, I believed, would increase their will to work and enhance their sense of self-worth. And to get there, I persuaded the plant manager to change Tsurumifs overall office and floor organization.

The office had had for years a so-called Engineering Structure. Other outside departments, such as maintenance, machining, production control and quality control, supported its work.

In place of this, we created a new department for engineering staff that combined, under one organizational entity, all of those supporting departments. Further, this new, combined department was sub-divided into three separate units based on specific products. Each of these three units, and their respective floor managers, were given full-fledged responsibilities for their individual areas. Each unit, under the direction of a business unit manager, would manage their own production, budget, their employees, productivity, maintenance, quality, inventory and own Kaizen activities. Reporting to the business unit manager was a maintenance team and a Kaizen team. By doing all of this we created, in effect, three small, independent gcorporations,h with a B.U. manager as gpresidenth and leader of the staff people, the gdirectors.h

I became staff leader to two of the gcorporations.h I worked directly with the unitsf floor shop employees, their Kaizen groups, their maintenance groups, and their business unit managers. My objective was to make them the model units that the entire plant would wish to emulate

I wanted to create an environment that instilled in the floor operators the belief that they were the unitsf most important members, because it was they who made the products. I wanted the floor operators, and those who worked around them, to understand it was they, better than anyone else, who knew what problems existed and how to correct them. I wanted them to take a leadership role, to continue Kaizen, and to turn to staff people and the Kaizen group for support.

While I trained members of the unitsf Kaizen groups to draw diagrams, computerize numerical control education, welding, machining, etc., I wanted most for them to rid themselves of the feeling that they were doing Kaizen for others. I advised them to go to the shop floor, work alongside the employees there, and experience first hand the problems they confronted daily. Help to eliminate these problems, help to remove their unnecessary and uncomfortable work, and they will see the worth in what they are doing, I told them.

Similarly, I wanted the maintenance groups to rid themselves of thinking that they were fixing the machines for others. Instead, they should understand that if a machine breaks down it means maintenance has been gdefeated.h If a machine breaks down, the maintenance people should go to the shop floor to apologize to the workers, and then attempt to fix the machine immediately. So that machines donft break down, I explained that it was maintenancefs job to Kaizen their jobs, to work together with those on the floor to create a planned maintenance schedule.

I taught the business unit managers that they should not have to rely on their staff to do their work in order to solve their problems. Ideally, the shop floor should do Kaizen consistently and continually, an approach that strengthens a unitfs structure and enhances the floor operatorsf sense of self-worth. Ultimately, the business unit managers, I told them, must run their own gcompanyh as they best saw fit.

I believed then, and believe today, that this is the mold for a true, strong company. The more automated industry becomes, Kaizen allows us to help shop floor employees feel a true sense of ownership in their work, something that can only redound to a companyfs success. Stated again, the overarching purpose of Kaizen is to gcreate a vibrant work place.h

Implementing Kaizen

Here are some brief suggestions on how to do Kaizen.

It is important for all employees to feel joint gownershiph of what takes place on the floor. With that in mind, a quantifiable, six-month plan, that sets forth realistic goals, should be devised. Once the plan exists, the Kaizen group and those on the floor should post tags on those machines, and highlight those production processes, where there are agreed problems. The tags should be color coded: yellow for quality, blue for production, red for machine breakdowns. The tags can be cut in half. One half stays on the machine. The other goes up on a Kaizen board, where the name of the person responsible for each item is posted. A daily meeting should be held to assess the progress being made to achieve the planfs stated objectives. Generally speaking, the course of action for Kaizen should be taken the same day. Anyone looking at the board, including the plant manager, should be able to learn what is happening at any given moment. (The Kaizen board that is on the floor also can be used to post that areafs management principles.)


In the beginning of Kaizen at Tsurumi, the floor operators were skeptical of the staff people, believing that they were just showing off. They doubted the staff peoplefs commitment to Kaizen. Over time, however, they began to express desire to work on their own Kaizen projects, even on their days off! One instance of devotion to the Kaizen concept stands out in my mind.

A plan had been devised to alter a production line during a long holiday break. There was no expectation that any shop floor employees would elect to take part; this was their time off, after all. Yet, although no one was asked to participate, the leader of that area canceled his flight home and his holiday plans to join in altering the line.

Some personal notes. When I moved to the IPS Steering Committee Office, the shop floor, Kaizen group and maintenance personnel all wanted to go with me! I was deeply touched. Every so often old acquaintances from the shop floor would stop by my new office just to say hello and reminisce about what a wonderful time they had had with Kaizen. How blessed I had been to have worked with them.

Finally, the actions and the approaches devoted to Kaizen at Tsurumi paid off handsomely. Productivity gain was extremely high. We achieved much better results than originally anticipated. Working together, our unitsf performance was the best in the entire plant: in the areas of quality, the failure rate was reduced to one tenth; machine downtime was reduced to one sixtieth; inventory reduction was one sixth.

Allow me to say that I believe that as humans, we are highly intelligent creatures. I want all of us, by using Kaizen, to use our creativity for the betterment of the company. This, is the key to success.