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  • Writer's picturehidet77

“Previous Process,” “Own Process,” “Following Process”


Understanding the three stages of the 'Previous Process,' the 'Own Process,' and the 'Following Process ’- is not just a matter of familiarity. It's a key to maintaining the continuous flow and interconnectedness in TPS.


In Japanese, we will say “Mae-Koutei【前工程】,” “Ji-Koutei【自工程】,” “Ato-Koutei【後工程】.” Some companies use these Japanese words without translating to recognize the relationships between the processes. They feel it is rare for someone to pay attention to this fundamental relationship of flow; therefore, they keep the Japanese word to highlight its importance.


These words appear frequently in TPS. For example, the pull system in Japanese is “Ato-Koutei Hikitori 【後工程引取り】.” The explanation of Just in Time will be, “Following process, withdraw what is necessary, when it is necessary, at the quantity necessary from the Previous process【前工程】.” At the same time, the “Own process” follows the standardized work so that we do not cause trouble with the previous and following processes. We should check if the change made inside our own process has no negative consequences for other processes. When we say “Multi-Skill,” the first step is to become capable of working at previous or following processes. This is the basic structure of “Continuous Flow.”


One thing TPS abhors is the presence of 'Isolated Islands.' One way to interpret this concept is that situations, where we can’t state the previous and following process, disrupt the flow and interconnectedness of the processes. Our goal should always be to connect these processes, even in Challenging conditions. In such cases, we must develop mechanisms such as Kanban or Heijyun-ka. We can’t leave such conditions as is or let the workers figure it out each time.

Yet, the most important thing is that every worker in your business can name the previous and following processes. No work can exist in stand-alone conditions. By identifying the previous and following process, you realize you are part of a big team and society. Also, chasing the efficiency of one process might create a more chaotic flow. Instead of focusing on the tools, the capability to acknowledge the previous & following processes will be more critical. Otherwise, people will use tools such as Kanban to cause more turbulence in the flow.


These relationships become crucial in the context of quality. When we talk about “Build-In Quality,” we will say, “Do not receive, do not produce, do not send defects.” The vague part of this slogan is the subject. One way to understand this is, “I do not receive, I do not produce, I do not send.” But should we work as such stand-alone? Why not give feedback on your previous process? Do you ignore input from the following processes? I have run into situations where they are peaceful on the surface but backbiting on quality. In such cases, instead of emails and meetings, collecting all three processes and investigating Genba and Genbutsu provide far more productive results. When we do such an activity, we typically find that all three are wrong in some ways and have opportunities to improve.


Such relationships apply to functions. Within businesses, there are many functions and workflow through these functions. There should be similar three-stage relations among these functions. When these relations are not clear, we create silos, which will kill the organization's workflow. At the same time, this doesn’t mean we have endless meetings. Each function understands the roles & responsibilities, and conditions they must accomplish to pass the work to the following process. Disasters will happen when functions try to maximize efficiency by ignoring the conditions required to keep the three stages.


At the same time, when we look inside the hierarchy, the scope of the “own” process could change. For example, when a team leader uses the word “own” process, it means the team leader’s tasks and responsibilities and team members' work. The scope became more broader. Most team leaders will have experience of the entire team's work before getting promoted. Of course, it gets more challenging to experience every process as the scope gets broader. Still, at least some familiarity or experience with the previous and following processes should be present before promotion.


Once we recognize the fundamental relationship of the previous-own-following processes, we have a philosophy to think about.


Japanese (or Toyota people) say, “The previous process is God, and the following process is Customer.”


This phrase requires additional explanations.


The above phrase explains that the previous process is doing work that the own process can’t do. Therefore, we must respect them. Someone has work now because somebody else did their part in the previous processes; consequently, we must show appreciation.


Another point is that another saying in Japan is “Customer is God.” If so, previous and following processes are equal.


Last but not least, Shinto, the Japanese religion, is polytheism. We believe in many Gods, and no one is absolute or almighty. They coexist. Maybe “God” is not a good translation, but they are respected. Interestingly, October is called “Kannaduki,” which means no God month. Where do they go? They go to Izumo to have a meeting to discuss various topics. (Therefore, in Izumo, October is called “Kamiariduki,” God's presence month.) The idea here is that the representatives of different areas and topics come together to have conversations periodically. I do not intend to suggest implementing annual month-long meetings with multiple managers based on the Sinto philosophy. The time of Sinto and daily human life is different. However, the crucial thing is to look around your process periodically, collect those who are related, and discuss.



So, try to recognize your previous and following process. Get to know them and work together to accomplish better results. Establish such a basic structure first, then start challenging more complex relationships.

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