Kaikaku: The Power And Magic Of Lean

The book “Kaikaku: The Power And Magic Of Lean” by Norman Bodek is an innovative, visionary, and groundbreaking piece of literature that changed the way large and small scale management was viewed forever. The legacy the book ultimately has left behind has been far-reaching–from bailing out failing corporations all around the world, as well as assisting to build countless more, the ideas presented by Bodek, after a long career of meeting with and studying the best economic minds in the world, applies the Japanese model of production to the American marketplace.

Called lean manufacturing in the United States, this model maximizes productivity and efficiency by minimizing waste. Its precursor, called the Toyota Production System, and literally named for the multinational automotive corporation, deals with minimizing waste in seven particular areas: over-production, processing waste, time wasting, waste of stock, waste of a defective product, and waste of the movement of the goods.

More specifically, lean manufacturing deals with the ratio of money used relative to the money coming in, and the rate at which it is happening. Lean manufacturing minimizes the amount of stock, which then allows for a more quality product that uses virtually no waste due to over production or waste of stock. In addition, keeping a stock amount low decreases another key principle of waste, a defective product. In this way, any defective model was never overproduced, and therefore waste is further minimized.

The original Japanese model of lean manufacturing heavily involves the fluidity and flow of manufacturing in business. The primary train of thought was, and in many cases still is, that a consistent flow and fluidity to work will naturally expose wasteful and problematic practices, and then can thus be naturally eliminated as the business flows.

The American model of lean manufacturing is very reflective of the United States’ view toward everything–do it in excess, and do not be patient. The book explains that many US companies attempt to force what the Japanese model allows to happen naturally–generally to expose any wasteful practice in the business and manufacturing process. The problem with the American model is by interfering, and not allowing this to happen naturally, a business will have unforeseen circumstances–an example would be removing a process perhaps seen as wasteful at the moment, but would prove to be efficient in the future.

Bodek cites Japanese economic mind Shingo when describing the evolution of the efficiency of manufacturing processes. He explains how the man was able to look at the manufacturing process as a whole, rather than one part, and recognize that machines, or the manufacturing tools, worked at a different rate than the individuals necessary in the manufacturing process. This is how he was able to balance the stock versus sales, thus minimizing waste.

Perhaps the largest and most important contribution of the book is its explanation of the process of how exactly waste is eliminated. He also cites Mr. Shingo when he says they came to the realization that they could not reduce waste until they knew exactly what was causing the waste. The author states that too much time was spent on the machinery and technology process, resulting in inefficient manufacturing processes.

This is, in essence, the “magic” of lean manufacturing as a whole. The entire process takes a great deal of studying, trial, error, realization, and guidance, Shingo, in the book, ardently believes that this is the best way for anyone to learn–to see and figure it out for themselves. This can be applied in a larger way to lean manufacturing.

Because the nature of lean manufacturing involves isolating wasteful processes, it takes the employees themselves to identify these problems. The employees themselves then have to figure out a way to solve the problem–this ensures not only that the employees fully understand the manufacturing process, but are also constantly striving to perfect it.

This creates a mindset in a corporation, as well as a process, that inevitably will eventually end in success–allowing for inefficiencies to be pointed out and fixed by employees, creates a better group dynamic and understanding, where inefficient and wasteful processes will inevitably weed themselves out. This is in stark contrast to the Americanized system, where everything is pushed to excess, however, has certainly proven itself to be a more profitable and efficient mode of business and manufacturing strategy, though it does occasionally take time.

The key point is to balance this time, as a factor of wastefulness, against the overall productivity the company will experience as a whole. Again, this is all a product of lean manufacturing, perhaps the most novel idea with regards to cost-benefit analysis since the introduction of the factory system more than a century ago.

Its effectiveness is undeniable, as Bodek shows in the continued success of Toyota on an international level. This is certainly hard to argue with–Toyota does not seem to be going anywhere.