We often associate Lean with everything that is good about Toyota or the Toyota Production System (TPS). For some of us, the mystique of Lean may even include all things from Japan and everything about the Japanese people. Looking back in time, however, many of the foundational principles of Lean were not so Asian and were actually born right here in our own backyard.
We know how Henry Ford’s assembly line or flow production transformed the manufacturing process and revolutionized transportation and the American industrial landscape. We also know of Edwards Deming’s “plan-do-check-act” and his teachings to Japanese managers during the post-war period. Ford and Deming’s work had a significant impact on Japan’s reputation for producing innovative and high-quality products in the 60s and 70s. However, the most significant contribution to TPS that is rarely talked about these days may be The Training Within Industry or TWI service model which was created by the US Department of War, and ran from 1940-1945. The mandate of the TWI service was to provide consulting-style, train-the-trainer service to war-related industries in order to increase the production output to support the war effort. You can read Jim Huntzinger’s article The Roots of Lean for an in-depth study on how TWI had such a profound influence on Lean as we know of it today.
The TWI service identified the Five Needs of the Supervisor:
1. Knowledge of Work
2. Knowledge of Responsibility
3. Skill in Instructing
4. Skill in Improving Methods
5. Skill in Leading
These skills were taught to supervisors and experienced workers through training sessions which included:
1. Job Instruction (JI) – Based on the credo: “If the worker hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught”
It provided guidelines for trainers to coach inexperienced workers so that they can work according to the standard.
2. Job Methods (JM) – The underlying goal was to empower workers by having them evaluate their own jobs objectively and analytically on factors such as efficiency, safety, quality, quantity and cost.
3. Job Relations (JR) – Provided guidelines for supervisors to handle workers fairly and with respect under the principle that “people must be treated as individuals.”
4. Program Development (PD) – For trainers (Sensei) to continue training others to solve production problems.
The TWI program was well received in post-war Japan and formed the basis of the Kaizen and Standard Work culture in industry, particularly at Toyota. Harnessing this mindset and incorporating Taiichi Ohno’s Just-in-Time concept and Sakichi Toyoda’s principle of Jidoka are what resulted in today’s Toyota Production System and the Toyota Way.
I’m certain that there are some people who feel that it is difficult to become a Lean organization without having the “cultural roots of the Japanese” - well think again! For starters, many of the key components of Lean that are familiar to us such as Kaizen, Muda, Sensei, Gemba and JIT actually have their roots in North America - but were adopted, evolved, and improved in Japan.
In North America we tend to prefer controlling over engaging, commanding over coaching, adding/subtracting over improving, which makes the environment more difficult for lean. We’ve got let go of our need to control our people. Instead, engage them in making their jobs better through kaizens and develop them through proper coaching and mentoring. By making them part of the solution to the problem, the chances of a more effective sustainment will be much greater than if they were simply told how to fix it. This approach is the essence of TWI which played a significant role in the evolution of the problem solving and people developing culture at Toyota. And what are the results after just a few short decades? According to Fortune’s list, Toyota is the eight largest company in the world by revenue as well as the largest manufacturer in existence.
All this is not to say that we do not have great role models locally. Some exceptional organizations such as Medtronics or Dell Computers are present day manifestations of North America’s lean roots. Fortune magazine named Medtronics on their list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. Access to some of Medronics’ best practices is accessible to you through Lean Sensei’s Florida Benchmarking tour. Of course you would have figured out by now that our Greenbelt and Blackbelt programs were designed many years ago based on the fundamental TWI principle of “train-the-trainer.” The objective of these programs has always been the same: to prepare and develop people to become a true Sensei to others and eventually reach out to the entire globe.
Go Transform The World!
 The Roots of Lean – Training Within Industry: The Origin of Japanese Management and Kaizen by Jim Huntzinger