Our MD, Rick McCarthy recently visited Japan for a Lean Study tour.  Here he writes about his experience with Dr Kobayashi who’s father created the 20 Keys  that are crucial to develop a world class company. 

My biggest learning is one about R-E-S-P-E-C-T. My first impression is that the Japanese will give you respect before you earn it. Wow, that is a generous offer!  We talk a lot about Respect in our Lean training, but there is nothing like experiencing it to truly understand what it means. Respect is ingrained in their culture. And when it comes to the work environment, these guys not only want to do a good job, if they don’t, they will feel deeply ashamed!

Example of a desk after applying 4S

I was in Japan on a 20 Keys/Lean Study Tour. The leader of our tour was Dr Kobayashi. His father created 20 Keys in 1982. 20 Keys is a way to implement Lean/Lean Thinking. It makes sense that the first Key is 4S – Cleaning & Organizing. The Lean office is set up just like any other production area, safe, clean, and built for speed. They say, if you can’t get past Key 1, then you are doomed to fail the rest.

Where ever there is a phone you will also find a pen and paper and phone lists

Below are the 20 keys and a few photos from my insightful study tour!

Supply Cupboard. Notice there are no doors to make it easier to access and easier to keep clean
Supply Cupboard. Notice there are no doors to make it easier to access and easier to keep clean


The laminating and label station
The laminating and label station

Key 1: Cleaning and Organizing

Key 2: Rationalizing the System/MBOs

Key 3: Improvement Team Activities

Key 4: Reducing Inventory (Shortening Lead Times)

Key 5: Quick Changeover Technology

Key 6: Manufacturing Value Analysis

(Methods Improvement)

Key 7: Zero Monitor Manufacturing

Key 8: Coupled Manufacturing

Key 9: Maintaining Equipment

Key 10: Time Control and Commitment

Key 11: Quality Assurance System

Key 12: Developing Your Suppliers

Key 13: Eliminating Waste (Treasure Map)

Key 14: Empowering Workers to Make Improvements

Key 15: Skill Versatility and Cross Training

Key 16: Production Scheduling

Key 17: Efficiency Control

Key 18: Using Information Systems

Key 19: Conserving Energy and Materials

Key 20: Leading Technology and Site Technology


Sayōnara – (Japanese for Goodbye!)