An Interview with Mazda’s Project Management Expert, Mr. Yoshimichi Tanaka

During the planning phase to develop a new car with SKYACTIV Technology, MAZDA top management asked the development team to cut the development cycle in half. Mr. Yoshimichi Tanaka, a 25 year veteran at Mazda, decided to implement Critical Chain Project Management to meet the challenge. As a result, the team not only met the deadline, but their achievement was recognized by the industry when MAZDA CX-5 with SKYACTIV received Japan’s Car of the year in 2012 and 2013.

How did you select members to promote and implement Critical Chain Project Management?

At the time when I tackled Critical Chain Project Management implementation, I had spent 25 years at Mazda. There were many employees who had worked together on the same team. Then, I invited those people to some workshops to study how to improve the way to work efficiently, like reading a lot of books, articles and other information together. In this reading circle, Critical Chain happened to get extra attention from team members. That is how members got together. So I did not actually invite people for CCPM in particular, it happened naturally.

How did you build CCPM promoting team members?

A. Our reading circle was a start. We also sent some people to attend a seminar held by Being Co., Ltd in order for them to investigate how CCPM could be an effective method to improve our situation. Luckily, upper management also wanted to have a breakthrough.

I regularly emailed articles regarding how to create a paradigm shift in the organization by using CCPM. This was my privilege, since I was a long-term employee of Mazda.

Once the decision was made to implement CCPM, we held one internal seminar in our group. I intentionally announced who would be attending the seminars to promote more people to attend it. This tactic worked well, so that attendees to the seminar increased gradually. This 3-hour seminar included both a theory phase and an implementation phase.

What did you do to make people understand the importance to have buffer for projects?

A. How are you going to support your team members who are working on very challenging tasks after you have taken their individual task safety buffer away from them? Will you say, “Don’t worry. I will help you when you need it?” If you have a very strong and trustful relationship with them, then this would be enough. However, I have to say that this is a very rear case. Therefore, it is very important to define what “support” is. This is “buffer.” People can work their tasks as long as “buffer” is secure.

On the other hand, it would be very difficult for people who think that time reduction is most important to understand the importance of a secured “buffer.” Since “buffer” is a concept in opposition to “time reduction.” This “Buffer” concept was originally invented by Henry Ford who used space on the manufacturing line to maximize its flow. Then, Mr. Taichi Ohno used this idea when he developed low volume production strategy for a wide variety of products. Finally, Dr. Goldratt converted this idea to the time. Thanks to this conversion, the concept of “buffer” became available to a wide range of industries. So, I have to say that this concept and its successful outcomes have been proven for over 100 years.

If you want to have fast flow, then, you need “buffer,” which requires a real paradigm shift. I mentioned these stories at our internal seminars over and over. This paradigm shift story is real. You will understand by using CCPM. Or, please study real Toyota methods.

I really recommend you to read “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” written by Dr. Goldratt This book explains that the concept of CCPM started and inherited from Henry Ford, to Taichi Ohno and Dr. Goldratt.

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