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. “…Unlike other consultants, our approach was not top-down, telling people what to do,” says Mr. Kakiuchi. In this first article of a five-part series, Mr. Kakiuchi shares his consulting style and relationship with Mr. Imai with Risa I. Cox, Managing Director of Kaizen Global Enterprises.

Thank you for your time today, please tell us about yourself a little bit.

I graduated from the department of Industrial Engineering of Tokyo Institute of Technology in March 1974. My study was closely linked to KAIZEN™, so I was assigned to the department involving KAIZEN™ at Nissan. I spent 18 years at Nissan, including two years studying at Stanford University. At Nissan, I was assigned to various departments, even in the sales department where I had to sell cars on the street and did door-to-door sales, which we never see any more. As I remember, no matter what I did, I was always involved in KAIZEN™. Then, I started to think about being an independent consultant to help companies.

“As I remember, no matter what I did, I was always involved in KAIZEN™.”

How did you meet Mr. Imai?

After I left Nissan, I went through training at JIT, a consulting company. Mr. Kenji Takahashi, who worked at JIT in those days, accompanied Mr. Imai as a consultant when Mr. Imai traveled to the US and Europe to spread the concept of KAIZEN™. In 1991, I joined the company as the fourth KAIZEN™ consultant. Even coming from Nissan, learning about the Toyota Production System (TPS) widened my knowledge and enabled me to work better in various situations. I knew I was contributing at Nissan, but I realized that my KAIZEN™ in productivity, quality and such was limited, such as in gemba. I realized there was a notable difference in the two companies and how they operated. At Toyota, the words ‘management’ and ‘KAIZEN™’ were seamlessly matching.

I was, then, given the opportunity to work in Europe. Mr. Imai who had already been consulting in Europe, came to see me how I worked as a consultant and had dinners with me. That is how I developed a relationship with Mr. Imai.

Please describe your consulting style.

KAIZEN™, a product of Japan, was becoming very popular in Western companies. Many Japanese consultants were working in US and Europe. However, unlike other consultants, our approach was not top-down, telling people what to do. Ours was always thinking together and doing together in gemba. By doing, we think more, learn more and do better. Mr. Imai and I share the same view.

The focus of consultation business moved from Japan to Europe and the US, and I really enjoyed what I was doing. I improved my consulting skills and gained experience. KAIZEN™ gained popularity and became a boom around that time because of the book Mr. Imai wrote. After working with the company for 20 years, I became an independent consultant. In my view, there are three types of consultants: consultants who teach tools such as KANBAN or andon, consultants who are objective-oriented such as Deming Prize or TQC goals, and consultants who help the bottom-up approach. As an independent consultant, I am the third type, emphasizing participation from everyone. 

“By doing, we think more, learn more and do better. Mr. Imai and I share the same view.”

So, you have a long history with Mr. Imai. What is your experience now when you are with him?

We only talk about KAIZEN™! His brain is fully occupied with KAIZEN™! I think he discovered and positioned FSL™ (Flow, Synchronization, and Leveling) as the entry to the theoretical KAIZEN™ methodology. I think it is a very interesting concept. Basically, you consider the management of a company with an analogue view, not with the digital view. The logic is if you have a good posture, you could be healthy. I like it very much.

By applying FSL™, Mr. Imai suggests that everything will have to improve holistically and horizontally, with everyone in it. In this view, reduction of inventory is not isolated, people will have purposes and goals, and it will enhance better communications. I think ordinary people tend to see only a part of it, such as the inventory was reduced, or the Lead Time was shortened. But he came up with the idea by putting all of these together and calls it the management of a company. No wonder he is so energetic.

Interested in learning about Mr. Kakiuchi’s KAIZEN™ project with Parts Seiko? Watch out for the next blog post to be published on Tuesday, March 15th!

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