nagoya castleI thought it would be easy.

Transformation of the manufacturing company I worked for seemed simple. I toured and learned from companies in the Toyota Supply base around Nagoya, Japan. It was 1986. The US manufactured goods for both the US domestic and the world markets. The methods I saw and, more importantly, the way of thinking behind those methods could transform any business.

The ideas were simple. Check, act, plan, do: what could be easier? CAP-D! Understand the current state. Set a target. Find the causes. Verify the causes. List the countermeasures. Select the best countermeasures. Plan the implementation. Execute the plan. Go back to check. Document the results of a large sheet of paper. Do again.

The method’s universal. Understanding the current state applies to customers, problems, or work processes. Once you understand the current state, when you see “the actual thing,” then the rest is easy. Spin the wheel. Spin it once, improve your business. Spin it twice, improve some more. Spin it for a decade everywhere in your organization, be best in class. Spin the wheel for 50 years, be the best in the world. But don’t let up. And involve all employees and suppliers.

It’s so simple, so elegant. A simple fractal transforms your business. Just change our thinking.

Almost 25 years later, how did something so simple prove so elusive? Many of our manufacturing companies are gone. Some are downsized. Some are bankrupt. Some are outsourced. Some offloaded millions of dollars in debt to make slim profit margins from decimated product lines. Some are little more than sales organizations for overseas manufacturers.

Not all of this is due to our failure to continuously improve our organizations – not all, but much.  Many of these problems exist or were more severe due to our inability to do a simple, but very difficult thing – give ourselves and our people the methods and the motiviation to improve our work every single day.

Perhaps the simple ideas were exotic plants – they couldn’t thrive in different environments.

I believe we can use the past 25 years of experiences to move forward. Maybe we need our own simple ideas:

  • LISTEN – Observe & Understand.  Go to where it’s happening. Watch and listen. Capture what is really happening. Set the target.
  • ENRICH – Explore & Discover. List and create alternatives. Explore the alternatives. Discover the “best alternative.”
  • OPTIMIZE – Improve & Perfect. Tear it down to details. Combine & recombine. Eliminate future failures & problems. Implement.

We’d like to hear your thoughts about the ways to a higher quality, more productive future for our organizations.