Japan Lean Experience – Tokai-Shin-ei Electronics

Back in 2009 I  kept a diary of my Japan Lean Experience and I recall that on our 4th day on the road, and after another great lunch at the Gozarase restaurant we travelled for about an hour to Ena-shi Gifuken, the home of Tokai-Shin-ei Electronics.

Tokai-Shin-ei design and manufacture printed circuit boards their factory is located in a small town in the foothills of the central ranges around Nagoya. Tokai-Shin-ei ‘s long standing President,  Yoshihito Takanaka, gave the initial presentation; he informed  us of his corporate philosophy, based on self discipline, employee involvement through Kaizen and a focus on customer value through Total Quality Management primciples.


During the Gemba tour it was fascinating, to see the high levels of workplace organisation and cleanliness. The 5S program was adopted in the early nineties, as part of Takanaka’s unique philosophy of developing self discipline across the entire work force which encouraged and sustained a highly clean and organized workplace.

TSK’s market is extremely competitive, and due to its remote location, they had focused on minimizing operating costs, by carefully maintaining and even improving the plant and equipment, to maximize the investment. The adoption of Autonomous Maintenance (TPM) has enabled machinery to last well beyond the normal expectations, hence maximizing the assets and return on capital.

One particular example highlighted during the tour was of a 19 year old machine, which has a normal life expectancy of 5 years!

The overwhelming impression of TSK is that of a dedication to Kaizen, they truly believe that everyone has a part to play in improving the operation for their customers on a daily basis. It is also important to remember that employing just over 100 people in this small town is a significant factor, they seemed proud of being able to withstand the years of fierce competition with one of the best reputations for quality and reliability.


5S is certainly a major contributing factor, and without doubt some of the best examples that you will ever see. This must see factory is an absolute highlight, and we are hoping to include a visit in our 2018 Japan Lean Experience tour!

S A Partners will be running a one week study tour to Japan next April.


Dr Kano Would be Delighted to Travel Delta Airlines

I have recently returned from three weeks of sun and scenery in the USA, as part of my travels I took a couple of internal flights, on Delta Airlines to transport me in and out of Salt Lake City,  my starting point, then travelling up through Idaho into Yellowstone National Park.

So for those in the know…The Kano model is a theory of product development and customer satisfaction developed in the 1980s by Professor Noriaki Kano.

Kano informs us that customers are always looking for their needs to be fulfilled and certain features if provided can “delight” customers and generate both loyalty and that word of mouth experience that drives sales and beyond. He also adds caution that you also have to get the basics right and standard performance is expected

So in an example, it’s no good having a chocolate on your hotel pillow if the sheets are ripped and the wifi is so slow, you think you’ve gone back to dial up!

Anyway, back to Delta Airlines.

Their app was a dream and I managed to book everything very easily and I had all the details on my phone, plus when I arrived at LAX, I had a “nudge” from my Apple watch, sent from the app, to tell me where to find the bag drop. It also told me the wait time, which wasn’t great news as it was the 4th July weekend, but comforting, no less.

So once I had dropped off the bags, the tracking number loaded to the app and I didn’t need the little receipt, so one less thing to keep safe.

So here’s the extra delighter, although I’m easily pleased. My Apple watch gave me a nudge about 20 minutes later and I had a message from Delta, that my bag had been loaded safely aboard the plane! How cool was that!

So the flight was smooth and even though this was only a short domestic transfer, they had the full size touch interface screens at each seat and you could watch the latest movies or TV at no cost!

The final touch was whilst coming off the plane at SLC, my watch gave me a nudge again, and told me that my bag was safely in Salt Lake City and I’d find it on bag carousel #4…totally Awesome and a sense of relief combined…what excellent customer service!

By the way, Yellowstone was awesome too!


Customer Value in Perspective

The customer is at the heart of almost all contemporary management approaches that have emerged over the last few decades – lean, six sigma, BPR, TQM, JIT, ToC to name but a few. Customer value is first, and arguably most important, of the five lean principles. The five lean principles first appeared in Womack and Jones’ seminal text of 1996, Lean Thinking. They are:

  1. Specify value in the eyes of the customer
  2. Identify the value stream
  3. Make the value-creating steps flow
  4. Let customers pull value
  5. Continually strive for perfection

Customer value, in spite of being the first and most important of the lean principles, is probably the least understood. Consequently companies often ignore it opting instead to work on mapping their far more visible value streams. More often than not this is for a want of approach or technique to tackle customer value. Broadly, the lean world is awash with an array of different tools and techniques. See, for example, John Bicheno’s many toolbox publications. The over-abundance of lean tools brings with it two main problems: first, a perception that lean is all about tools rather than an holistic systems approach to business management; second, dilution of the really powerful tools amongst the many. Having argued that there are probably too many lean tools around, customer value is an area in which a tool, or rather a systematic approach, is lacking and urgently needed. Many companies would benefit from a periodic review of customer value – one that offers real depth of understanding, not the superficial and often meaningless information gathered through customer service surveys.

At S A Partners we have been experimenting with such an approach for a number of years. We have tested our approach with a number of our more adventurous clients and have been pleasantly surprised at the insight that our clients gain from this approach. For some clients it has led to a re-think of the basic elements of their prevailing strategy. In all cases, clients have learned something new about what their customer really value.

Our confidence in our systematic customer value (or Voice of the Customer) approach has grown such that we are now ready to share it with the wider lean community. We hope it will trigger debate and generate greater activity around customer value. In our forthcoming webinar my colleague, Steve Baker, will explain our approach and provide case study examples from both large multinationals and small enterprises.