60-second interview: Masaaki Imai

Posted on 26 Sep 2011 by The Manufacturer

Ahead of the Manufacturer Directors Conference 2011, TM talks to lean guru Masaaki Imai about the expansion and evolution of lean thinking.

The Manufacturer Directors Conference (MDC) has always been graced by some of the manufacturing industry’s most forward thinking minds; from advocates of new manufacturing technologies to experts on the regulatory and economic environment in which the sector functions.

This year however The Manufacturer magazine is particularly pleased to be welcoming Mr Masaaki Imai, founder of the Kaizen Institute and the original pioneer who brought the lean principles of the Toyota Production System to the Western world.

Mr Imai will deliver a keynote address at the conference on November 9. In advance of the event he talks to Roberto Priolo, editor of Lean Management Journal and a TM reporter, about his observations on the uptake of lean enterprise across the globe:

RP: What does it feel like to see Lean expand so much in the last decades and also expand to non-manufacturing sectors?

MI: In my opinion, an overwhelming majority of industrial companies today have failed to introduce lean. Those who have embraced it only, did so as piece meal projects and not as a company-wide strategy. I hope that the service sectors do not make the same mistake.

RP: What is your opinion on today’s application of kaizen and Lean principles? What’s changed from when these were first introduced at Toyota?

MI: Kaizen mind-set is not satisfied with the status quo and lean seeks maximum gains by employing minimum resources. Thus, kaizen leads to lean which leads to green. Originally, Toyota placed human endeavors as the basis of new management system. It appears that many companies are trying to improve by “re-tooling” and “cranking” the factories.

RP: We are delighted and honoured to have you as a keynote speaker at the Manufacturers’ Directors Conference this year. What made you choose it over other events taking place around Europe?

MI: I am hoping that the kaizen and lean approach will be better understood in Europe than America.

RP: Lean has the ability to adapt to different scenarios. How do you think it will change in the future?

MI: The basics of lean will remain unchanged. But it will require new social and legal requirements to be universally practiced.

RP: What is, in your opinion, the role Lean can play in the current dire economic circumstances?

MI: The kaizen-lean-green trilogy is an answer to the current dire circumstances.

RP: You have always travelled the world taking the principles developed at Toyota to factories in many countries. What were the most striking differences you saw over the years in the application of lean and kaizen in different countries? We always say how important culture is when implementing a continuous improvement programme. In your experience, how do ‘macro’ cultural differences between countries impact on the way lean is approached and implemented?

MI: The main differences will be the way human beings are treated as customers, stakeholders, employees and suppliers by management.

For more information and to book your place at MDC visit www.themanufacturer.com/mdc or call Benn Walsh on 0207 401 6033.