Why Experiencing Lean in Japan is so Important


Lean is about action, practice, and continuous development. This is why we talk so much about going to the “Gemba” (place of work). It’s not just to analyze and observe. Going to the Gemba is about action, interaction, and communication. This is why so many leaders of aspiring Lean companies are leaving their desks behind and traveling to Japan to experience top Lean organizations. They don’t go just to see what Japanese companies are doing. They go to be a part of it, so they can bring it back home to make it their own.

Photo: Get out of classrooms to witness Lean in Japan, the birthplace of the Toyota Production Systems

Why Japan?

Once a new and foreign concept outside of Japan, Lean has gone international and mainstream. Many companies around the world are now singing the praises of their new and improved Lean systems. Do you really still need to go to Japan to learn these tools? Why not go to a successful Lean company in your own country? These are valid questions, but another valid question might be how these local companies got to where they are. More often than not, effective Lean companies have some connection to Japan, either directly or through a third party like a consultant.

Photo: Immerse yourself in the culture of Respect to People and fostering the Spirit of Kaizen

Here are they key benefits that make studying Lean in Japan a one-of-a-kind experience:

  • Modern Lean practices originated in Japan. It’s where they were made, and in that sense Japan is the ultimate Gemba.
  • You will quickly be immersed in a culture of Kaizen, not just in business but in all areas of society.
  • In Japan, Lean has been implemented in many industries outside manufacturing.
  • Being immersed in a new culture and seeing what is possible breaks status-quo thinking.
  • Setting aside focused time to benchmark and learn from the best-in-class companies in Japan without distractions provides participants a chance to reflect on their own organization and its needs.

Photo: Develop synergy among your colleagues and design action plans to implement back home while in Japan

Japan has a wealth of history and experience to offer visitors, but what about after the trip? When you return to your home country, what benefits can you expect?


This is what leads most companies down the path to Lean transformation. In the past, implementing a few “Lean tools” here and there was enough to give companies an edge, but many found that the improved competitiveness did not last. This is partly due to shortsighted goals, but also the result of stronger competition and a limited understanding of Kaizen culture. Lean tools are hardly secrets anymore. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to invest in a Lean culture that allows you to develop unique solutions before anyone else figures out how. Going to Japan is a key factor for understanding and realizing this kind of culture.

Photo: Discovering the secrets of developing Toyota mindset directly from traction experts in Japan, will help you create a sustainable Lean culture back home.


Organizations ranging from public transit to healthcare have had incredible breakthroughs on our trips. Even when visiting an organization in an industry different from your own, the principles of Lean are all around you. In fact, getting a glimpse of Lean practices outside of your industry can have the additional benefit of allowing you to view these principles and the problems they solve from a fresh perspective

Video: Japan trip participants discuss the benefits they’ve experienced regardless of their industries

Senior Leadership Development:

One of the biggest benefits of experiencing Lean in Japan is the approach to teamwork and leadership that participants experience. This fortifies their vision for the future of the company and their responsibility to make it happen. This is the fastest way to get leaders committed to Lean efforts. It prepares them to be open minded. It also validates their expectation that they have room for improvement and Lean is the way to get there.

Japan trip is just the beginning of an organizational transformation:

Lean study missions should be thought of as the first step to creating a mindset of discovery. The discovery doesn’t end when you leave Japan. A great example is Able Engineering. In 2009, Able’s senior leaders discovered breakthrough ideas with us in Japan, and upon returning home to Arizona they put those ideas into action. Through Enna’s continued coaching, Able has developed their own innovative workplace culture to drive improvements with the input of their fully empowered workforce. They’ve dramatically increased profitability by engaging every single employee without adding to their workload.  As the result of their stronger focus upon developing people and wisdom gained in Japan,  they have completely eliminated costly rework. Their people can now sustain this culture of Kaizen on their own, and it all started with new ways of thinking they discovered on their Study Mission to Japan.

The goal of Enna’s Lean Study Mission to Japan is to see an increasing variety of organizations experience these benefits. Every culture has something to offer to the world of process improvement. In the same way that Japanese companies were inspired by American quality management practices after World War II, we want people from every corner of the globe can learn and be inspired by Japan’s Lean culture. The only way to fully appreciate this is to experience it for yourself.

See Enna’s website for more information on upcoming Lean tours. We’re excited to see how this next group discovers and applies new Lean breakthroughs.

Source:  President at Enna.com

C. Marco

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