Time and time again, people ask me an easy way to Lean. They want something different, but not too different, just as people fancy innovation but can’t stand innovators. They want a roadmap, a plan that fits what they already know without having to explore barbarous terms and concepts.
I should know, I was the same. Twenty years ago I first studied how Toyota engineers helped one of their suppliers with a headlight cell. The Toyota engineers wanted to increase the number of change-overs to reduce the batch size, the supplier engineers couldn’t mobilize the change-over specialists to devote so much time to just one cell. The Toyota engineers wanted to pull on the cell every couple of hours, the supplier engineers didn’t want to devote the manpower to pick up parts so often. The Toyota engineers wanted to train the operators, the supplier engineers… you get the picture.
Yet, the work progressed. Batch size came down, tools were modified so that the operators could change them by themselves, quality issues were solved. Total cost of the part went down by about 30%. More impressively, at part renewal time, the Toyota engineers and supplier manufacturing engineers came with product design suggestions to lower the total cost of the new part by another 30% (of course, over the dead body of the supplier’s product engineers, same old, same old).
I wanted the roadmap. I looked for ready-made answers. I could see the step-by-step improvements. I could see the radical changes in the cell as well as the resistance from the site. They always seemed to know what they were doing. So I asked again and again for the roadmap. I thought they didn’t want to share it for proprietary reasons. “Don’t worry, I told them, it’s just for my research – I won’t publish it. Scout’s honor!” But they kept saying, “We don’t have a roadmap!”
Then, one day, the top engineer told me, “We don’t have a roadmap, but we do have a kind of golden rule: we make people before we make parts.”
Since then, I’ve spent much of my professional life figuring this out. Over time, as you read the literature from the Toyota group (TMC and its main suppliers), you keep coming across to references to Monozukuri through Hitozukuri:
- Monozukuri is making products, something akin to artisanship but without the fanciful elements to it. Something about making the right product for the right customer (no frills) and making it the right way, which is with the most frugal work process possible, the closest to 100% value-added.
- Hitozukuri is making people in the sense of constantly developing technical skills and the ability to solve problems with others in an atmosphere of mutual trust. Much of the literature from Toyota suppliers insists on the second part: there has to be confidence in order to hone skills. They put forward the many initiatives they have to develop self-confidence and confidence in management with the same vigor as we debate the financial savings of lean programs.
To me, Lean is about fighting big company disease by bringing the CEO to the gemba to get closer to Monozukuri and Hitozukuri. The lean tools and principles are essential to highlight product/production issues and skills/trust issues that need to be addressed. When we use the lean tools to fix this organization or optimize that process, we simply miss the point.
It’s not easy. Companies have been designed to optimize their costs through functional systems and programs. The quality system is there to keep the cost of non quality (what is that anyway?) down, the purchasing system is there to keep the cost of supplying down and so on. None of this has much to do with making the right products the right way for our customers and developing technical competences in a spirit of respect and teamwork on the other.
“Monozukuri through Hitozukuri” remains something of a compass. At the end of yet another discussion of where do should take the company in today’s turbulent markets, yet another political battle with so-and-so that has another hyper-solution to sell (all your problems solved in one feel swoop) or is inflamed because someone stepped on their turf, I asked myself: how far are we from “making products by making people” and how do we get back to that, on the gemba, step by step? In this sense, I see Lean as an on-going meditation in what, really, is Monozukuri in this context? And what does Hitozukuri mean right here and now?
Twenty years down the line, I find myself fighting the same fight over and over again as executives want to transform their organizations to make them leaner. They want to have a program, to redesign value streams, to workshop all waste away. I tell them you can’t. You first have to transform yourself by going to the gemba and figuring out what “right product with right production” and “developing people in an atmosphere of mutual trust” mean to you in your context.
Monozukuri, Hitozukuri – the ticket price to “get” Lean is finding out about two more Japanese words. Do you think it’s worth the effort?