LEAN PRODUCTION TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER
SUZUKI / GENERAL MOTORS CAMI PROJECT
This is my personal account of the CAMI technology transfer project of intercultural and training issues in aspects of project-managing the preliminary trainer-training in Japan in the late 1980s.
Francois Knuchel, 1989
CAMI Technology Transfer Project
Rationale for Suzuki Approach & Overview of Trainer Training
In the late 1980's General Motors and Suzuki set up a joint venture in Canada, CAMI. It was a green-field automotive plant to manufacture the Cultus/Swift and Samurai/Vitara cars using lean Japanese manufacturing principles, the so-called Toyota Production System, involving a massive transfer of lean manufacturing principles and know-how from Japan to North America. I was in charge of the preliminary communications (language, presentationa and cross-cultural) and trainer training program of 180 selected Japanese "trainers", from plant manager to shop floor supervisors, designed to enable them to "transfer" their know-how to 2,000 'associates' in the new CAMI Ingersoll plant in Canada.
This is a brief personal account on how we managed the training program. The details of the CAMI project are described elsewhere (pdf file). What I want to describe here is a little about the training program itself, and some of the considerations that lead to the kind of training programme we did in the first place. This project is of interest from both an industrial practice perspective as well as from an intercultural point of view.
It is not my aim here to try to describe the Toyota Production System (TPS). Nevertheless without an understanding of its basic principles it is difficult to comprehend the task Suzuki and GM undertook and why we did things the way we did. I shall hence allude to a few of these principles here, but it would also be useful to read an introduction to TPS elsewhere.
Many books and articles have been written about TPS, suffice to say that, in a nutshell, it is a bottom-up, highly synchronised manufacturing approach which relies on chains of events happening at the right place and time (just in time). Should one link fail then the whole system temporarilly comes to a stop. It is this very tightness which enables "waste" to be eliminated resulting in 'lean' cost efficiency. The system uses a variety of approaches, or "techniques" as they have been termed in the West, such as levelling, multitasking, TQC, TPM, HST, Kaizen, Teian, Pokayoke, small-lot production etc., but it is important to note that while each of these 'techniques' are interesting and worthwhile in their own right, it is actually the integration of all of them together, like a mosaic, into a synchronised whole, that makes the Toyota Production System so powerful and effective.
What is also important to understand is that the whole process relies heavily on partnerships and teamwork, and is driven by the shop floor associates and supervisors, as well as the support groups and suppliers. All elements in the chain are doing things the way they are because they all form part of the whole. The process is not process-managed remotely (from a blueprint) by management, as would normally have been the case traditionally in Western plants. The role of Japanese management in this context is to coach, mentor and support their staff, and ensure all have the tools and assets necessary to make the process run smoothly. Japanese managers do not micro-manage, but encourage their people to manage themselves, but at the same time they have a hands-on understanding of what is happening, "managing by walking about", listening to staff's constructive ideas and suggestions.
Again it is not my aim here to explain the differences in manufacturing and management styles between East and West. What is important to understand about the project, however, is that the TPS is fundamentally a bottom-up approach where the workers and shop-floor supervisors are empowered and given responsibility of running of the production process, in a way that has rarely been the case in the West in the past. Consequently, it was also the shop floor team leaders and supervisors who were tasked to undertake the fundamental hands-on technology transfer training in this CAMI project.
In other words Suzuki's decision to have plant supervisors do the technology transfer training reflects the very nature of the Toyota Production System itself, in that it is a bottom up hands-on approach, rather than a "project management" drawing board approach remotely controlled by clean engineers, consultants and managers. How else could Suzuki transfer to Canada the hands-on know-how and spirit down to every detail of the shop floor along all levels of the chain, including externally to the suppliers, creating a synchronised whole, other than through the actual people who were actually doing the work?
A Western approach to such a technology transfer task might probably have been to engage a large team of consultants and engineers to implement the technology and systems, including drawing up precise manuals and job descriptions, with detailed standards, as one typically finds in ISO 9000* quality operation manuals. This contrasts very much with the Japanese bottom-up approach where the shop-floor people are empowered and trusted to work towards the same goals. The West has tended to rely on systems and organised structures with disposable "human resources", whereas Japanese (and collectivistic cultures in general, representing about 80% of world) start from the people and work on ways of fine-tuning collaboration, like an orchestra.
(* On a side note it is interesting that most Japanese companies, including the many known for having brought consistent quality which customers can rely on to the West, were not ISO accredited. Indeed later when they decided to get accredited, many of the best Japanese companies actually found difficult to do so, despite having a far better quality record than their Western 'accredited' counterparts. ISO is not as "international" as the name seems to imply, but is actually very Western in concept, in that it relies on rules, principles and system safeguards to achieve 'quality' by accountability (traceability), whereas the focus in Japan is much more on the people, by empowering the workers collectively to act, and giving them the tools and alertness to achieve their tasks effectively as a team and tackle challenges on a case by case basis. Indeed the comparative study of ISO quality procedures with Japanese style TQC lends itself magnificently to cross-cultural differences in business practices and notions of 'management' between East and West, despite many of ISO's principles having been inspired by Japanese practices!).
Some examples might clarify this point. A Japanese flow manufacturing plant has "Andon" devices along the line every meter or so. These are switches with two buttons, a yellow to call for help, and a red one to stop the line. Every worker is empowered to use these buttons. If he needs support for whatever reason, he can press the yellow button and team mates or the team leader quickly come to help in order to maintain the fluidity of the line flow.
As part of TQC everyone is encouraged to behave as an 'internal customer' and to always check the quality of the previous process. If a worker finds a defect, regardless where the source, and it is not possible to quickly repair within the time cycle, he is authorised to stop the line in order to prevent the defective car from moving on to the next process. This avoids defects being covered up (and subsequently taking up far more time and expense to identify and uncover at the end of the line by inspectors, or sometimes only by customers later). For example, a badly connected wire takes a few seconds to fix at source, whereas it could take hours disassembling the car at the end of the line to first find then reach that bad connection once the car has been fully assembled and the fault is found at inspection. This is the principle of Zero Defect or Zero Tolerance. To enable and encourage this sort of defect spotting, each worker is empowered to stop the line. Stopping the line immediately initiates a team of people to deal with the problem there and then, or remove the car from line if it is going to take longer.
Given that 1 minute of line stoppage more or less represents 1 car less produced, it is fairly clear the TPS entrusts and empowers the workers with a major responsibility. Many Western plant managers would hesitate to allow any of their 2,000 workers the power to stop the line at will and "play havoc" with production. But the basic principle is that it is far cheaper to lose a few cars per day from line stoppage, and be able, at source, to stop defects being built and covered, than employing a sophisticated and expensive quality inspection system at the end of line - and even then with some defects never showing up until they are with the customer.
Another example illustrating how people form the cornerstone of organisations in Japan is in the safety concepts. In the West safety is largely governed by rules and regulations combined with barriers and fool-proofing, to the detriment often of the operational efficiency of the operators. When the Canadian Safety Manager first visited the Japanese plant, for instance, he had a double shock: First he could not believe how "unsafe" the plant was, without the usual safeguards and barriers; but then he was even more flabberghasted when he saw that the Japanese safety record was far better than the "safe" Canadian plants. While the West tends to focus on rules and safeguards, the Japanese focus on people awareness. Japanese workers are exposed to hazard sensitivity training and ongoing awareness gestures on a daily basis, so the attention is on them and their development, rather than on external barriers and systems (rules). The fundamental management message in the West is that employees are sleepy idiots and need to be protected by rules and barriers like children; whereas in Japan people are viewed as responsible adults, but being prone to accidents, need to apply awareness measures (HST) to keep them fully alert and alive, keeping them on their toes all the time.
When we first translated the Japanese term for what is now called 'multitasking', we called it by its more literal Japanese meaning of "multi-functional associate". It is interesting that the concept has been accepted in the West, but that in the process the concept has slightly shifted focus from the human being to the system or task, so from multi-functional PERSON to "multitasking" activity. With the division of labour principle further enforced by mechanical organisation principle, with strict job demarcations and descriptions, it is a little difficult in the West to conceive a more fluid organic approach to arranging tasks and people.
From the above examples one could say that "technology transfer" is somewhat of a misnomer, since what is actually being transferred is not the mechanical knowledge and way of doing things, but rather an enlightened can-do attitude of both workers and management. And that is exactly why Suzuki decided to let the operators and team leaders do the 'training' bottom-up, despite the difficulties this entailed, rather than employing an army of engineers, managers or consultants to transfer the more mechanical aspects of the TPS through manuals and remote control guidance. The Japanese referred to their plant operators as "blue collar workers" and regarded them highly as key personnel to the whole manufacturing system!
The main difficulty of this technology transfer approach, empowering the shop-floor operators to transfer the bulk of the hands-on know-how, was that most of them had minimal levels of education and had certainly never learned a foreign language. For all intents and purposes most had practically no ability to communicate in English whatsoever, and with an average age of 45 most were positively devastated by the prospect of having to start learning a foreign language from scratch for the first time in their lives. Our job was to train these shop floor operators in basic English communication, starting from zero, and then give him the necessary training skills.
This challenge was initially a major worry for Suzuki. Indeed Suzuki's approach is one that even Toyota did not try, who preferred instead to transfer far many more Japanese managers and consultants to Nummi and to run the operation themselves at first (Toyota had the resources available). This latter option was not available to Suzuki for financial and other reasons (at the time Suzuki were struggling to remain in business after the Japanese government had claimed there were too many car manufacturers and one, probably Suzuki, had to go - the same mistake the Japanese government had already made once before when they had "predicted" Honda would not survive!)
One of reasons we (MACC-LR) were awarded this training contract was that we already had experience of training Japanese blue-collar workers for many years at Kobe Steel. The Japanese considered this not just a linguistic or learning ability problem, but fundamentally there was an outright fear and resentment among the Japanese hands-on workers who after 20 years were suddenly asked to "sit in a classroom" again and learn a foreign language. The Japanese referred to this fear and resentment as "English allergy". Through our methods of NOT "sitting in a classroom" but a very physical tangible approach to learning we had already shown at Kobe Steel that it was possible for Japanese workers to overcome their resentment and 'allergy' in a productive way.
Given the fundamental need to do the technology transfer in a very physical, tangible and human way, and not through consultants' abstract concepts, Suzuki took the risk of assigning this major training program to us. A very brave step given that something of the same scale had never been done before. And of course this episode also represents one of the highest points in my life and I am very proud that our own team of trainers were able to contribute to the overall success of this project.
The Preliminary Trainer Training
The preliminary training consisted of the 180 Japanese in 12 groups phased over 2 years, to correspond with the Start of Production of the various plant parts in Canada. Each group received about 6 months of training at 4 hours per day. In the first three months the supervisors (Kumicho/Hancho) spent the remainder of the day in the plant training their Japanese deputies in supervising to take over for their absence in Canada (the plan was for them to be there for 2 years). In the second three months the supervisors devoted the whole day to preparing to train the Canadians, 4 hours in training and the remainder preparing their training material. The training had two main objectives:
to give Kumicho/Hancho (plant supervisors) a solid grounding in English communication, practically starting from zero and with a fundamentally negative approach to any language learning.
building on that basis to focus specifically on training skills in English, i.e. so that they could train their Canadian counterparts, and enabling them to run simple TQC, Kaizen and TPM circle meetings in English.
The project overall also included a lot of OJT practice and the creation of production manuals. Despite the highly synchronised approach from stamping shop via welding and painting to assembly shop, except for site Operation Standards, nothing about the whole production system and can-do spirit was written down in Japanese, indeed there were no production manuals or plant training materials, the whole production system had been passed down orally by OJT. Apart from the trainer training programme, which I headed, the MACC-LR team also consisted of a professional operations manuals production team (first in Japanese, then translated to English) and a video production team who created 5 training videos showing the basic principles of the whole production system. A lot of the material that came from the latter 3 months of the supervisor preliminary training, especially the latter 3 months, also fed directly to the content creation of both the manuals and video production.
The whole training programme was divided into 2 parts, more or less corresponding to the objectives above, and both parts were 3 months each in length:
Part I: Basic English Communication
Part I was to give the Kumicho/Hancho (plant supervisors) a solid grounding in English communication. Because there was a great deal of fear and negativity associated with this, we had to deal with this first, otherwise nothing could be achieved. We did this by making the language learning totally physical, not an intellectual exercise, focussing a lot on relaxation and team-building in the early stages. The training room was an empty room with a clean carpet or tatami with no desks and people entered without shoes (which is standard in Japanese buildings). We had the Kumicho/Hancho stand, run, sit, lie down and stretch around the whole room, everything they did was physical, using the whole empty space. We used principles of suggestopedia and accelerated learning, combined with TPR (Total Physical Response) initially. Most importantly we made the whole learning process a lot of fun.
A session would always start with a relaxation period where the Kumicho/Hancho would lie on the floor to relaxation music putting them into alpha state (almost hypnotic). After total relaxation they would listen to a short piece of prose or dialogue, which would later be worked on as language material, but at this stage still in their relaxation stage on the floor with eyes closed. This allowed their minds to be taking the material in subconsciously. While most of the session activities were highly active and physical, it was sometimes necessary to do another relaxation exercise in the course of a 4 hour day. Our instructors had an array of music tapes to achieve different moods and emotional effects as needed.
In the early stages our approach was TPR (Total Physical Response) which are basically instructions which learners act out rapidly, initially consisting of verb (V) and object (O), e.g. 'touch the window'. The Kumicho/Hancho followed the instructions without being asked to say anything, but all the time they were associating their movement with the words they heard, thus subconsciously (and painlessly) building up their (initially passive) vocabulary, and getting acquainted with the basic English word pattern of SVOD, which contrasts substantially to the Japanese (S)DOV. All this learning was happening with a huge level of fun. Later on in the course the 'instructions' were 'activated', with the Kumicho/Hancho giving instructions to each other, and even later on training room objects were replaced by plant shop objects, thus forming the basis of OJT training ('turn the lever upwards', ...).
Our approach for most of the first three months was not a conventional TEFL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language) approach, but one that relied very much on the whole body-mind connectivity. We used a method known as SGAV - Structuro-Global Audio-Visual approach. It is based on a holistic whole-sensory approach to language learning using body and mind in a playful way, initially just by listening and taking in, gradually later beginning to speak, an approach similar to the way children learn their mother tongue. It is based on the concept that the building blocks of language at different levels (phonemes, words, sentences...) are never spoken in isolation but always in context (words, sentences, dialogue contexts) and that by depriving learners of the context (which is what most language teaching methods actually do) one is actually depriving them of a natural learning facility. This is also because people learn by relating the unknown to the known, and in this case the context represents the known. Children learn languages naturally in play and by doing, i.e. they always learn in context, picking up from the context. Our approach was therefore always language in context.
In order for this to happen in an artificial training room situation, the context always has to be first created, and that means both the environmental context (physical positioning, audio-visual surroundings, whether real or imagined) as well as the physiological context (body position, posture, voice tonality) have to be prepared first. Without going into detail the approach is fundamentally a highly interactive and physical one, where the learners are fully acting out the context physiologically with their whole bodies, feeling the contextual emotions through body motion, and in which the language, spoken and stamped with high levels of tonality, fits in quite naturally. The learners can thereby associate the language to the context, thereby learning it physically, feeling it rather than thinking or intellectualising it, or "anchor" it to use the NLP term (neuro-linguistic programming). The learners are extremely active, highly involved and in peak state, hence able to assimilate new language painlessly, bodily and while having a lot of fun.
The approach contravenes more formal traditional approaches of TEFL. The biggest trouble I had as the manager (Director of Studies) at the time was not with the learners, but with the language trainers. We had to recruit professional language trainers who were highly trained and experienced in conventional methods and who had a proper understanding of how language works. At the same time we had to retrain them and introduce them to these "crazy" methods. Some of the teachers found this whole body approach wierd and somewhat difficult to come to terms with, but overall they produced some outstanding results.
All instructions were given in English right from the beginning, and this too formed very much part of the learning process, either in a state of relaxation or in peak state. In the early days being able to follow classroom instructions was very much part of the linguistic material, so that the whole training could be done 100% in English, even with very limited English. Later on meta-communication (communication about communication) was important, such as asking for clarification or repetition, correcting, giving feedback etc. and was used and practised extensively, not only to enable real and practical communication in the training room between instructor and learners and the learners amongst themselves (in English!), but mainly because later on the Kumicho/Hancho would also have to perform these same 'instructor's instructions' and meta-communication when training their Canadian trainees. Meta-communication is the only 'real' communication taking place in a training situation (the rest is simulated), and real being relevant it formed part of basic training skills.
An important aspect in the whole training program was giving the learners the tools to manage their own learning. This included learning planning, strategies and self study work. From a training perspectives therefore the trainers were not really trainers but learning facilitators, in order words facilitators enabling the learners to learn independently. This meant giving the learners space to do this and then getting out of their way. There was a great deal of self-organised learning and peer sharing, especially in the latter stages, with 'trainers' there to help and support where requested. In effect this meant creating the right learning conditions and space, letting the learners create a sort of learning marketplace and letting them get to work in a self-organised fashion. Some trainers were more akin to letting go than others, but we got there.
After 3 months of learning in a highly physical and enjoyable fashion the learners became proficient learners, able to understand a lot and express basic notions. Moreover they were able to learn from context (learning strategy), in other words able to continue their language acquisition themselves from any English conversations or interactions happening around them, learning from context. The value of this would only become evident at a later date when they were in Canada. They were also able to express themselves in basic terms in English, with a natural sense of word order (critical in the case of English) and a large physical vocabulary. They had also internalised the basic sentence structure and were proficient in giving instructions - which lead to a smooth transition to the second part.
Part II: Training Skills
The aim of the second half of the training was to build upon the basis of the first part, solidifying English communication and meta-communication with a focus specifically on training skills. This should enable them to not only communicate with their Canadian counterparts, but also train them in the operation of their work stations, and also explain the philosophy behind why certain things were done as they were. The pure operational side was easy, because it mainly consisted of instructions (which they had already learned) and warnings or checks (check the gauge for ...), and in worst case, they could demonstrate the motions without language. But the more philosophical side was a bit more complex, since it involved explaining how things work, why things are as they are, what happens when you do such and such, who to call if xyz is leaking, how suggestions are implemented, brainstorming fishbone diagrams in team-meetings, asking the 5 whys, etc., overall communicating at both a physical and intellectual level.
The second part also had an intercultural component as well as one exploring everyday life situations. Since the Japanese Kumicho/Hancho were being transferred to Canada to live, they not only needed to be able to operate as trainers in the plant, but also operate in daily living situations. So the second part also contained a situational component which we called 'SURVIVAL', placed in the middle to break the pattern. Part II therefore consisted of 3 sections:
Section 1: SPEC I: Mainly OJT plus gradual introduction to more complex issues
Section 2: SURVIVAL: Situational communication, including cross-cultural component
Section 3: SPEC II: More complex training plus preparation of training materials
Section 1 - SPEC I: To link with part I we started with operational instructions, the Kumichi/Hancho transferring what they had learned in terms of a series of instructions to their plant situation and their actual workstation area vocabulary. This included doing some practice work in the plant itself with the live equipment and cars flowing down the line. This enabled the Kumichi/Hancho to learn what they needed for their particular work area, but also put what they had learned in the last three months into a context they were familiar with, and thereby anchored it further. As the Kumichi/Hancho could suddenly do things linguistically (in English) they had never been able to do before (or even dreamed of), they realised just how much they had learned in the first 3 months and this gave them a boost of confidence and pride, and made them tackle what they still had to learn without fear.
Once the basic operational aspects had been internalised we moved to somewhat more complex issues, such as working with HST sheets (Hazard Sensitivity Training), TPM principles and procedures (Total Preventive Maintenance), what if scenarios (what to do if ...) and so on. This included being able to explain, in simple terms, the simple principles of Kaizen, JIT, pokayoke etc. as seen from (or applied to) each particular workstation point of view. During this stage the Kumicho/Hancho were beginning to prepare their own training materials to make explanations easier (visual presentation) and in the process gathered the language for the materials (e.g. labelling equipment).
Section 2 - SURVIVAL: Survival took the Kumicho/Hancho back to non-plant daily living situations, but this time we viewed them by topic or situation. Each day had a different theme, representing situations which they may have to deal with in Canada: airport, travelling, doctors, hotel, shopping, directions, hospital, driving, banking, social occasions, visiting a family, etc. Each theme would look at various situations within those themes as well as various cross-cultural issues, and would look at language specific to the themes. This included a tremendous amount of role-playing situations creating the context, eliciting specific language and consolidating general language and communication strategies learned in part 1. This was also an opportunity to deal with a lot of the issues, questions and worries the Kumicho/Hancho had about living in Canada, and by this stage most of this could be done in English (being the only Japanese-speaker in our team I held separate sessions, normally at the plant, in Japanese for more complex issues). In parallel the Kumicho/Hancho also received some elementary intercultural training in Japanese by a Japanese intercultural instructor.
Section 3 - SPEC II: This second section continued the work of section 1, but gradually reaching the end of the whole training programme this involved now a lot of individual or small group work. The Kumicho/Hancho had always worked in small groups so that they could practice with each other, but the instructor now spent a lot of time going around and helping each individually with the language of their particular work area. Again this was consolidated with actual practice in the plant. There was also quite a lot of written work preparation for the training visual, charts and diagrams.
Since there were occasions where the Kumicho/Hancho would also have to train groups of people, not just one or two, we also gave them a presentation format or framework to practice. This enabled them to follow a clear presentation structure in English (greeting, topic, content, introduction, first item, end, next ..... etc.) into which all the Kumicho/Hancho had to do was "fill in the actual content", which to a large degree was something they had already worked on elsewhere, together with their materials, visuals and charts. This gave the Kumicho/Hancho confidence to speak to larger groups.
Finally, one more area we worked on were team meetings, e.g. morning meetings, TQC (quality circle) meetings, kaizen meetings. This involved two areas: a) observing a meeting and explaining what was happening, and b) chairing a meeting. As part of their training the Canadian counterparts were to spend 1 month in Japan (indeed immediately after our training was over), so that they could see a plant in action (what the Canadian plant should look like once it is built and running) and observe key features in operation. This included attending and observing team meetings, which were held by the Japanese workers in Japanese. In order for the Canadians to get something from this, the Kumicho/Hancho were tasked with giving simple explanations of what was being discussed. To make this easier the respective Kumicho or Hancho would first take the Canadian counterparts to the workstation to have a specific look (rather than hear an explanation) at the particular problem being discussed. Then in the actual meeting it was easier for the Canadians to understand what was going on in Japanese with a few simple explanations by the Kumicho/Hancho, especially since a lot of meeting work is recorded on whiteboards, often graphically (fishbone, pareto, ....). As far as chairing team meetings in a foreign language is concerned, that's a bit more difficult, but it is amazing what people primed with a body understanding of the language together with a few meeting-related key words and some gestures can achieve!
Overall the training programme was highly successful. Naturally there are always some who pick up languages quicker than others, and here too by the end of 6 months some had become fairly fluent in expressing themselves, whereas others were still at more basic level. However, I do not know of any that was not able to communicate and train their Canadian counterpart successfully. And naturally after our trainer training programme the language acquisition process did not stop, but they continued to learn on the job subsequently in Canada.
By the time we started the last group in the second year word had spread around and the new trainees were so primed in terms of what would happen that they were already lying on the floor for relaxation in the first session without our having instructed them to do so. Certainly fear and trepidation had become a non-issue. Indeed the effect of the positive approach right from the beginning had the effect that the latter groups learned a lot faster than the earlier ones, and by the end of the 6 months the latter groups were substantially more fluent in English than the earlier ones. No doubt we as instructors learned on the way too and constantly improved our programme, but fundamentally the main difference I think was less to do with our programme but rather to do with the lack of fear or stress, and the ability, indeed eagerness, of the later groups to learn something new. If there is anything I learned from this, in terms what I would do differently in a 'next time', is simple: make the earlier groups longer (e.g. 7 months) and the latter groups shorter (e.g. 5 months), not only for the learners' sake, but also for ours as instructors, since we learned more and more about the plant and production philosophy and the specific training needs as we went along.
Immediately after our programme was complete I was able to observe first hand a lot of the training to the Canadians taking place in Japan (1-month training) before both parties flew off to Canada. From this I could observe how well things were going. Individually some were doing better than others, but overall the most positive feedback I was getting was from the Canadian themselves, who had also worried about what they could get out of 1 month in Japan without understanding any Japanese. They found that communication overall was excellent and they were able to relate well with their Japanese counterpart. In particular this helped them get maximum benefit from their training in Japan. Naturally I also observed a number of things, especially in the beginning, which were not quite right and needed addressing, and it is these observations which allowed us to 'kaizen' (improve) our own programme over time.
After the whole preliminary training programme was over I went to the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, to follow and evaluate the success of our programme. The Kumichi/Hancho there were at different stages depending on which group they had been in, the SOP schedule, which line etc., some had already been there almost a year, some had just arrived. I gave a questionnaire to all, did a few random individual interviews as well as a few focus group discussions to extract feedback. This produced a lengthy report with some areas for improvement and change a 'next time round'. However, overall the communication was largely successful, most of the Japanese were overjoyed at having overcome their 'allergy' (by now it had become a joke), were able to convey the training well, and overall the production system was working well.
There was one main criticism that came through, however. We had not done enough work on 'socialising'. The Kumicho/Hancho reported they had no problems with daily living and work situations, they were able to perform the training without problems, but the one area where they struggled was with trying to make friends with the Canadians, for example small talk after work drinking, what to say? Indeed 'next time' I shall try to rectify that. However, it is also one of the most difficult areas. As basic as "socialising" may seem to be, from a linguistic point of view it is probably the most difficult, because it is unpredictable. Living situations (bank, doctor, .. ) are fairly predictable (in terms what is likely to happen or be said), the training is fairly predicable (can be prepared for), but social situations are far less predictable. OK you can start off with some standard questions (where 're you from? Do you like ....), but if you're going to make friends where do you go from there? It could go anywhere. Mmm, a tricky one. Well, if the most difficult thing is the only thing the Japanese Kumicho/Hancho had to complain about, given the starting point then I'm quite happy about what we achieved. After all there is always room to improve - the 'next time'.
Two years after the technology transfer had taken place the trained Canadian managers and crew subsequently went to East Europe to train plant workers there in Japanese lean production, and from there back to the main plants in Chicago to 'reform' home plants. From Chicago the know-how spread to rest of world, including the UK. It is debatable whether this knowledge came from a more top-down approach from Toyota Nummi and Derby, Nissan or Honda, or from the bottom up Suzuki approach. I suspect the two supplemented each other.
As far as Suzuki is concerned, however, the Kumicho/Hancho returned to Japan earlier than expected, because the 'technology' had successfully been 'transferred' and there was no need for them to stay on there, and this represented a colossal saving for Suzuki. Because the Kumicho/Hancho had been replaced in Japanese too, Suzuki found themselves with a team of well-trained, internationally competent bottom-up trainers at their disposal, and they were able to utilise this strength in a major expansion and development of new plants in various parts of Asia: Suzuki was able to build new Japanese style plants in Hungary, India, Thailand, North Korea, Malaysia and mainland China. Indeed this contributed not only to Suzuki's mere survival, but also far beyond that to Suzuki being able to gain a major market share in South East Asia small car market, including gaining a major foothold in China, all due to the agile lever of the internationally competent technology transfer trainer team.
It is debatable whether other companies would or should have taken this bottom up technology transfer route, but certainly for Suzuki it was the right thing, as it allowed them to expand flexibly and quickly in South East Asia. Probably the most important thing the project showed, however, is that a technology transfer using a fundamental bottom up approach despite zero linguistic intercultural skills can be done, has been done, and has worked. Not only has it worked, but it has also allowed Suzuki to gain a nimble strength which has enabled them to expand their market share in developing countries with incredible speed and efficiency.
Interestingly no similar project undertaken in the West or by Japanese companies. Many questions have been raised, including at Suzuki, whether the huge investment of training internal staff each with 450 hours of language, trainer and intercultural training was worth it - some have considered this quite absurd. On the other hand it is questionable whether employing an army of external translators, engineers and consultants to do the transfer would have been that cheaper, and certainly it is unlikely it would have produced the same bottom up result. That aside, however, what Suzuki actually ended up with, once the CAMI project was over, was a strong seasoned linguistically and internationally competent hands-on team of trainers which they could and did employ for other technology transfer projects, in joint ventures elsewhere as above.
Indeed it is because they now had this team of seasoned trainers that Suzuki were able to expand into new markets through joint venture plants in a very nimble flexible and indeed cost efficient way. Over the last years Suzuki have been able to secure a major market share of the growing small car market in the whole of South East Asia. Seen in retrospect the huge investment in initial language and intercultural training has exponentially more than paid for itself, and indeed has enabled Suzuki to be able to do things which even their Japanese competitors have not been able to do!
In short there is no evidence to suggest that CAMI with its bottom up approach did particularly better or worse than its Toyota NUMMI or the Derby plant with its more Japanese top-down management approach (though by Western standards still fairly bottom up). Where the real difference shows is with SUBSEQUENT projects - Suzuki has gained skills that has enabled them to make major market inroads through local joint-ventures in South East Asia through their nimble team, with an ease that defies most other manufacturers, not only with cars appropriate to the local markets but with an approach to training that can easily be adopted by the local people. On many occasions I have spoken with automotive people in South East Asia and they speak with great respect of what they have learned from Suzuki and its humane approach.
The morale of this case? Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime. Fundamentally that is what distinguishes Suzuki's initially sometimes ridiculed approach from some of their bigger peers.