What the heck is a dojo?
Dear Gemba Coach,
What is a “dojo”? I hear about it but don’t find it referenced in the lean tools. Is it important?
A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of visiting Toyota’s Taipei Kuozui plant. Sensei Joe Lee (now also sensei to the Lean Enterprise China institute) took us to the dojo where we practiced turning marbles around – and how to improve from 14 seconds to 10. I realize this might sound bizarre, but it holds the secret to the true lean spirit.
“Dojo” is a Japanese word to describe a room or a hall in which martial arts are practiced – from “do”, the way or the pursuit, and “jo”, a place. In the lean context, dojo is where basic motion skills are practiced before newbies can hold their place on the line, and sometimes regularly as people are intent to practice their art – just try holding three or four bolts in your hand and you’ll see it’s not as easy as it sounds. In the Taipei plant there was a safety dojo room to visualize the consequences of poor work habits, and a work dojo.
Dojos Are for Details
The first key point about dojo is that the actions practiced are incredibly detailed, such as holding bolts in your hand, turning a screw or reading the correct code out of a board with various series of numbers (a dojo exercise I saw at the Takaoka plant). This is where the miracle (and often mystery) of lean lies: very, very detailed actions:
- Eye movement
- Hand movement
- Foot movement
Lean recognizes that overall results are not so much created by large management decisions but by the many, many cycles of very specific work that happen every day on the gemba while managers discuss strategy. Google’s strength doesn’t lie in Larry and Sergei’s lofty pronouncements but in the 40,000 search queries per second, and Google’s ability to give a relevant response in seconds.
The dojo is essential both for the learner who learns key skills, and for the teacher who has the opportunity to explore yet in greater detail the real foundational skills of doing any job. In turning marbles, I was not surprised to see that, as expected, using two hands instead of one and starting from top to bottom instead of the instinctive bottom to top was far more efficient, but I also discovered that the use of the third finger gave the marble the required spin, which I did not expect.
Without a deep abiding interest in the detail of work one can never catch the true spirit of lean: looking at what is in employees’ heads, not just hands. Why do they do the work the way they do it – what are their reasons. How can we make the work environment easier to get it right?
For instance, the sensei was grumbling about the shift to tablet from paper checklists at the final inspection stage. And indeed, after looking for a while, I could see that the inspection operator spent at least as much time looking at his smart tablet as at the car itself. Why? Because whereas on a checklist the position of items to tick is always the same, and the eye can find them mechanically, on a tablet these things shift and so does your concentration from the inspected object – the car – to the tablet. The tablet makes the data crunching easier, but the inspector’s job harder – not necessarily and improvement for the customer. This is where lean finds the magic spot.
Adapting Dojo Activity
I have to confess I personally use dojos in a wider way. Many of the companies I visit don’t have any standard work to speak of. Because standard work is so essential to kaizen, in the past I relied on the good ol’ Taylorist method of having someone write all the standard work documents – a thankless and fruitless job if any.
Now, I ask the front-line manager to spend 20 minutes a day with each one of his team members in turn, look at a specific operation and write the first standard – calling this (abusively) dojo. This practice creates a steady flow of standard work documents:
Key point: what to look for to distinguish OK from Not-OK and what to watch out for
(Reason for key point: not necessarily in the document)
As main activities are covered, suggestions and kaizen as well, documents created earlier on are revisited.
This is not a dojo in the strict Toyota sense of the word, but a “dojo” activity which helps build awareness of detailed job and, progressively, a set of standards. There’s more about this in Lead With Respect.
I don’t know if I consider dojo as a lean tool or a basic management practice, but I do believe it is central to understanding the spirit of lean, in the manner of TWI practice. Dojo brings together supervisor and operator, trainer and trainee in a mindful observation and discussion of work, and, as John Shook recently wrote, “Let’s elevate the work. Celebrate it. And with that, let’s treat it – the work – with the deep respect it deserves.”