Kaizen 'Lean' PrinciplesPosted 1/8/2008
By Tony Passwater
Quality improvement concepts have developed over several decades. In the collision repair industry, the principles behind Kaizen "lean" processing have come to the forefront. Why has lean processing become such a popular, accepted standard for improvement in collision repair? What does this management philosophy offer that can help shop owners run their businesses more effectively? A look at lean processing begins with understanding its history.
History of Lean Processing
After World War II, W. Edwards Demming, an obscure statistician, was invited to serve as a consultant to Japanese industry. He introduced quality control concepts to the Japanese. The central idea was to improve the production system to prevent defects instead of inspecting and throwing out the defective products. These concepts assisted the auto manufacturer, Toyota, in developing its own system. Mr. Toyoda mandated many manufacturing requirements on his managers that were thought impossible at that time, but he expected them to introduce innovation ... and they did!
The glue that holds the Toyota production system together is the philosophy known as Kaizen. "Kai" is Japanese for "change," and "zen" is Japanese for "good." Kaizen is commonly translated to either "improvement" or "continuous improvement." This is the main concept or philosophy that holds all of the pieces of the production puzzle together and allows them to achieve the dramatic results discussed earlier. Kaizen principles rely on teamwork, reducing errors and waste, and the ability of workers and management to communicate effectively.
Quality is defined as meeting or exceeding the needs and expectations of the customer. Thus, the goal of a business should be to find out what the customer wants and then fine tune the process to ensure that they get it. The term "customer" is used to include internal and external customers.
Implementing this philosophy is the hard part for our industry to grasp. The culture in the Western world is much more independent and individualized than Far East culture. Even though this independence has allowed the United States to be leaders in innovation, it is a major stumbling block to overcome in the collision industry. I have worked with and discussed Kaizen principles with many clients, consolidators and collision industry leaders. The key to successfully implementing this industrialized process is directly related to how the staff will accept the change to teamwork rather than individualization.
Demming's teaching embraced a number of techniques and methodologies for process control. It also embraced the philosophy that quality should be the responsibility of everyone in the organization. The Japanese adopted his ideas, and over time, they developed them further. They extended the application of process improvement from manufacturing to administrative functions and service industries so that the quality concept affected the whole organization.
During the 1980s, a number of North American manufacturers woke up and realized that the Japanese were on to something new. They in turn began to implement quality concepts and added other management techniques in the areas of employee motivation, measurement and rewards. This blend of quality management techniques and philosophies is generally referred to as total quality management (TQM).
The core concepts of TQM are:
Continuous Process Improvement
The steps in the continuous improvement process are to:
Everyone has a customer. The external customer is the person who purchases the product or service, which in our case is both the insurer and the vehicle owner. We also have to think of the internal customers. Internal customers are those who use what another group provides; for instance, the paint department is a customer of the metal department.
Defect prevention saves money. Imagine a process for manufacturing a product. It begins with a specification. Drawings are produced, parts are made and assembled and the product is delivered to the customer. The cost of rectifying a defect increases by at least a factor of 10 as the product moves through each of these states. Defect prevention is concerned with catching the errors as early in the game as possible or preventing them from occurring at all.
This concept deals with the fact that quality is not only the responsibility of the inspection department but is everyone's responsibility. Quality should be totally pervasive. Every work group in the business should be concerned with seeking ways to improve the quality of their own product or service.
Along with these core concepts, Kaizen philosophy is built on some basic but important foundation values. These are the core values that must be present or the system has little likelihood to succeed. These are explained further in "Kaizen Strategies for Winning Through People," by Sheila Cane. They include:
"Trust and respect for every individual, and the organizational belief that:
From these core values develops a member of an organization who pays attention to detail, is receptive to constructive advice, has a willingness to take responsibility, has pride in his or her work and organization, has a forward-looking approach and a willingness to co-operate.
I was chairman of a project to introduce an apprenticeship program in my home state of Indiana in the mid-1980s. From this project, we surveyed the current collision shop owners as to what skills they felt were needed by the students when entering the apprenticeship program. This was very important to me because at the time I was a secondary vocational instructor for collision repair. To our surprise, the first 14 items that overwhelmingly came out of the survey had nothing to do with the technical aspect of the career. They had to do with what we termed "employability skills." All of the core values I've mentioned above were there. There is still truth in the saying, "You hire for attitude, train for skills."
Kaizen relies on the input of the front-line staff. They know what is going on, and they normally have the best ideas for improvement. These have been called by many names and implemented by many systems. Whether they are called quality focus forums, suggestion groups, etc. ... the key is getting the staff involved and open to participate. Now don't think it will happen overnight. We have always explained to the senior management of our clients that change must first be led by management, and the burden of examination will be upon them. If they do not demonstrate to the staff that they are committed, it won't happen.
Kaizen promotes that the organization must be focused on continual improvement. No matter where you begin, the goal is not to accept what is now, but to keep improving it. This requires a major change in the present thinking of most of us.
Change is not easy. Most will elect to not change until it is absolutely required. This will make it an opportunity for others to capitalize on if they look "outside the box."
Please always remember that innovation is when something is done today that was thought to be impossible yesterday. The business key is that if you can reduce your cost of doing business to a significant margin on a per unit basis compared to your general market (competitors), you are holding the winning cards. You just have to play them correctly, and you will easily win.
Change requires a commitment to training by all - the organization to provide it and the staff to take it and embrace it into daily operations and be aware that it must be auditable and verifiable. This is not a "pipe dream." It's what it takes to remain competitive and profitable.
Tony Passwater, president of AEII, has actively worked full time within the collision industry since 1972. He comes from a third-generation family in the collision repair business. During his involvement, he has worked in and managed his family-owned collision repair shop, owned and operated an automotive paint jobber store, been an I-CAR local, regional, national and international master trainer and a secondary school vocational instructor. He has served as Skills USA Indiana state chairman since 1990. For more information, please visit www.qasi-direct.com or www.aeii.net.
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