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Paul Akers : The Simple Approach to Lean

By July 7, 2023 No Comments

The event

On 29th June, we had the privilege of having Lean expert, Paul Akers, talk to the Dublin Lean Network about Lean and how making small improvements can have a profound effect on a company.

Paul started by saying that he can’t teach us anything. He went on to explain that all he can do is show us what tens of thousands of companies worldwide are already doing.

Click here to watch the recording of Paul’s presentation.

Toyota & GM

That was Toyota’s philosophy, that workers should be empowered to stop an assembly line or invent new tools or do whatever else they feel like they need to do in order to get things done.

Then, he showed us a video of Mr Yoshino from Toyota who has been with Toyota for 45 years. Mr Yoshino led the NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc) transformation in the US in 1984. He was tasked with training 1,000 former union GM employees who lost their job because GM closed the worst plant.

Toyota wanted to make cars in the United States and they did a joint venture with GM that helped them figure out how to negotiate the United States. And then in exchange for that, Toyota showed GM how to make high quality small cars.

Paul explained that Mr Yoshino had to train these unionised American employees in Japan. He took 30 people at a time over the course of a year, every three weeks, and he brought them to Japan. He decided not to use the word teach or even coach. The minute he said you were teaching them, then it made them seem like they were below you, but he didn’t make them feel that way at all.

Mr Yoshino decided to show them what they were doing.

Next, Paul showed us a video of how Toyota took one of the worst factories and made it into one of the best.

Toyota’s first step was to send workers from Madrid to their factory in Japan. There, the workers saw a Japanese worker mis-thread a bolt, and then something totally unexpected happened. The worker reached up to pull a rope and they stopped the assembly line to repair it.

They fixed it. That impressed GM that they wanted to build a quality car.

One bolt changed their attitude.

Toyota’s Philosophy

That was Toyota’s philosophy, that workers should be empowered to stop an assembly line or invent new tools or do whatever else they feel like they need to do in order to get things done.

The idea is that if you give workers the authority to take control, you will unlock innovation and motivation.

After Toyota implemented Lean management, within just 2 years, the worst auto plant in the world had become one of the best. If you want your team to take more ownership of their work, then give them more power. Put the responsibility for solving a problem with the person who’s closest to that problem regardless of what their title is, and then step back and watch the productivity skyrocket.

Total Participation System

What it is a Total Participation System? Paul explained that it means everyone in your organisation is completely focused on the elimination of waste through continuous improvement and making small improvements every day.

Paul was in Japan about four years ago with Richio Shingo. He was the son of Shigeo Shingo who developed the Toyota Production System along with Taiichi Ohno.

Richio Shingo was also the President of Toyota China. Paul asked to explain very simple what is the Toyota Production System? Richio said that TPS is the accumulation of the small ideas of everybody.

It is as simple as that.

Paul went on to explain how he takes care of his garden and how everything is a process and all he is doing is seeing the parts of the process that are cumbersome and difficult, and then fixing them. He is constantly improving everything that he is doing.

He sees the waste in every process. Instead of continuing on working, which most people do, the lean thinker stops, makes the improvement, and then works. So that the next time they work, they’re in flow.

2 Second Lean

Then, Paul explained 2 second lean. He took a world-class business concept practiced by the top companies in the world, Toyota, Harley Davidson, Porsche, and made it fun and easy so anyone could tap into the power of daily continuous improvement. There are three easy steps to becoming a powerful lean thinker. First, learn the eight lean wastes. Overproduction, transportation, inventory, defects, overprocessing, motion, weighting, wasted human potential.

Then you will see these different wastes everywhere. Second, you will be compelled to eliminate the waste you now see and make improvements every day that removes the waste. Third, take a quick video on your smartphone to show your improvements to your friends, family, and co-workers.

Next, Paul showed us an example of an airline ticket and how it can be changed to make it easier for people to find the departure gate. Watch the video above to listen to Paul as he explains how lean can be used to improve just about anything.

This blog post was written by Trish Ferguson, Member of the Steering Committee, Dublin Lean Network.
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