“KAIZEN™ is for people with a problem, so if you stop such efforts to solve problems, it will all disappear for sure,” says Mr. Kakiuchi. The story of Parts Seiko, Mr. Kakiuchi’s long term client, is a valuable subject within the newly published book Strategic KAIZEN written by Masaaki Imai, founder of Kaizen Institute. Mr. Kakiuchi and Mr. Imai worked closely together in the 90’s to help companies in the United States and Europe while providing training for local consultants. This was shortly after the KAIZEN™ methodology was introduced as a secret of Japan’s competitive success. Today, KAIZEN™ remains as relative and powerful to increase competitiveness for companies globally. In this second article of a five-part series, Mr. Kakiuchi describes his Parts Seiko KAIZEN™ project to Risa I. Cox, Managing Director of Kaizen Global Enterprises.

I believe it has been nearly 10 years since you started to consult Parts Seiko. Could you share what happened in those 10 years?

The main business of Parts Seiko has been precision machining. They have about 2,000 customers. They receive engineering drawings from customers and have both repeated orders and one-time orders. When I visited them the first time, the shop floor was mess, which was not surprising. So, based on a program I developed, we did thorough cleaning and organizing where many problems came to the surface. As the program advanced, people visited other departments to understand and share the problems. By doing this, people learn how KAIZEN™ works and understand the importance of everybody participating. They start to use the same language and become a team. And this evolved to the improvement of all departments working as one.  

Until two years ago, every two months a meeting was held with representatives from all sites. They met at the head office in Saitama and presented the improvement efforts and visit the gemba. But in the past two years, everything became online. It was good that overseas participants could join the meeting online, but unfortunate that we were not able to communicate directly. Parts Seiko’s strength is to retrofit and use the old machineries to perform equivalent to new machines, as well as generating ideas to cut better. They would share results, such as the order of cutting on CAD, selection of tools, and best maintenance, and I franticly calculate and study the Lead Time safeguarding quality. 

I suggested the “Factory as a Show Room” concept, which resulted in the factory becoming a product. A show room in general is a place where finished products are exhibited. I suggest changing a factory itself into a show room. Then, the prospects who were not sure about placing an order before, would learn as soon as they step into the factory why the product quality is good, why they keep the delivery time, and why the price is reasonable. It is so obvious. The president appreciated my idea to commoditize a factory and show it to customers. Since then, orders have increased. This had direct correlation to KAIZEN™.

“I suggested the “Factory as a Show Room” concept, which resulted in the factory becoming a product.”

How can you maintain what you teach?

It is hard when the top, such as president or plant manager, changes. It happens a lot for large companies. Sometimes you lose all efforts. It is easier when the management stays. But, keeping consistent meetings, even if it is only every other month, to share efforts will maintain motivation so that the strength won’t be lost. KAIZEN™ is for people with a problem, so if you stop such efforts to solve problems, it will all disappear for sure.

What are some memorable moments when you visited Parts Seiko with Mr. Imai?

Mr. Imai surprises everybody, including people of Parts Seiko, by showing up carrying a backpack. Right after I introduced him to Parts Seiko, the plant manager happened to be watching a TV program about KAIZEN™ one day and saw Mr. Imai’s name and was so surprised that it was him who was visiting them often.

He always keeps a smile on his face and walks up the stairs of the factory with no problem. Workers apologized for not having a lift available due to his age, but he said, “Whenever I find stairs, I’m very happy to have an exercising opportunity,” which surprised everybody and made them fans of Mr. Imai.

He also visited Parts Seiko by himself many times. Everybody who had a chance to spend time with Mr. Imai are all affected with his charms. Mr. Imai has a super-positive perspective about everything, even the COVID-19 pandemic. When I dined with him, he said “Mr. Kakiuchi, you have a Corona-chance now, are you making money?” That is Mr. Imai. He never says that he is having tough time. And he just cannot stop talking about FSL™ whenever I see him.

“I believe my role as a consultant is to help realize the idea and let people act toward that goal.”

What does a good consultant look like who can generate results for companies?

Understanding what the management of the company says alone will not change anything. I believe my role as a consultant is to help realize the idea and let people act toward that goal. I think it is important to listen to all people in gemba whether they are foreigners, aged, men or women. Because by listening to them, enormous power can be created. Even if they are not well educated or they cannot speak fluently, just one word from a worker could dramatically improve the design done by an expert of CAD. That’s why it is important to listen to people. But they do not talk to you spontaneously even if you encourage them to talk. Unless you ask good questions, you cannot expect good answers. I think it is important to ask good questions and give them security and freedom to say anything they want. Focus on positives and praise. It will improve the culture and gain momentum.

It is important to let them know that fixing the problem is not the end, it is just a trigger. Convincing people to spread the solution to other parts of the organization is my job. Make a part to a whole. Successful companies have such strength to do so.

Interested in reading what differences Mr. Kakiuchi has seen when working in Japan versus Western countries? Watch out for the next blog post to be published on Friday, March 18th!

Click here to read the first article of this series

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