Kaizen: key to workplace innovation at Nissan Motor Parts Center

2009 – Nissan Motor Parts Center (MPC) in Amsterdam is the distribution center for auto parts and accessories throughout Europe. It employs 250 people. The influence of the Japanese parent company is clearly recognizable. The entire corporate culture, the process and the organizational structure are in Japanese style. One of the pillars of the company is the Kaizen principle: every employee – from top to bottom – is supposed to think about incremental improvement of the operations. The result: higher productivity, more safety and quality. The company has been rewarded with the AWVN Innovation Trophy 2009. The AWVN is the Dutch general employers association. The AWVN Innovation Trophy is an annual award for the company that provides the most inspiring example of workplace innovation in that year.

Why this is workplace innovation
Nissan received the award for her outstanding method with high performance teams. Aukje Nauta (professor at Amsterdam University) praised the fact that the management stands at the service of the teams. Nissan is capable of linking the Japanese focus on the long-term to the Western orientation on the short term. As a guide, the innovation from the Kaizen principle is adapted to the Western mentality. Kaizen is the gradual improvement of all aspects that are relevant to the work processes and to the development of employees. The renewal at Nissan is thus mainly determined culturally. In addition, several aspects of the employment relationship are at issue: the focus on innovation, the interests of the employees and the dynamics of the employment relationship.


The approach is characterized by encouraging employees to come up with solutions to improve work processes on the one side and a strict discipline on the other. For example, employees are given a lot of space for brainstorming with each other or alone, but also there is a Kaizen competition. For improvement projects teams can score points and  the winner is the team that has the highest average at the end of the year. The scores are determined by the management on the basis of a Kaizen activity report that was completed by the team. This is a poster with the analysis of the problem, the explanation of the action taken and the results so far. This method forces the team to address the matter in a structured way. And the obligatory paragraph about ‘results’ prevents that the action concerns only voluntary plans or experiments. Here you can see the good discipline. Kaizen is impossible without discipline. It will go wrong when a team fails to keep a just entered “standard operating procedure". A company must be ‘adult’ for Kaizen to be a success. And that requires a bit of discipline.

(Provisional) Results
The approach leads to measurable results for the company and for the employees. The continuous stream of improvements and growth – that is better than those of competitors even in times of crisis – provides space for development to employees. Specifically, this delivers 132 improvements per year. These improvements lead to immediate results for productivity, safety, ergonomics, quality and cost. This allows for growth which is higher than that of competitors, also in times of crisis. Kaizen is an ongoing process. It can always be done better, there is no end.

More information about the AWVN innovation trophy can be found at https://www.awvn.nl/?id=15187 and the attached article: Eeuwig streven naar verbetering – Kaizen: sleutel tot sociale innovatie bij Nissan MPC’  (Eternal working on improvement – Kaizen: the key to workplace innovation at Nissan MPC)  (2009) in: WerkGeven 5/2009.