What is Jishuken

Guide: Jishuken

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Author: Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

Guide: Jishuken

Welcome to this comprehensive guide on Jishuken, an often-overlooked yet invaluable approach within Lean manufacturing aimed at continuous improvement and problem-solving. Originating from Japan, the term Jishuken translates to “self-study” or “autonomous study groups.” Unlike other Lean methodologies that focus narrowly on specific tools or techniques, Jishuken offers a holistic approach, empowering teams to identify issues, understand root causes, and implement sustainable solutions.

This guide will walk you through the key objectives, phases, benefits, and challenges of the Jishuken process. Whether you’re a veteran in the field of continuous improvement or new to the concept, this guide aims to provide you with the insights and understanding needed for effective Jishuken implementation. Read on to elevate your Lean toolkit and contribute to a culture of continuous improvement within your organization.

What is Jishuken

Jishuken is a Japanese management philosophy that emphasizes “self-study” or “autonomous study groups” as a means for continuous improvement. In essence, it is a comprehensive, management-driven framework that encourages teams to take the reins of their own problem-solving journey. While many Lean methodologies tend to specialize in individual tools or techniques like Kanban or 5S, Jishuken stands out for its holistic approach. It serves as an umbrella under which a multitude of Lean tools can be applied based on the specific needs of a project or problem.

The ultimate aim of Jishuken is not just to solve one-off issues but to foster a culture of continuous improvement and problem-solving within an organization. It emphasizes a structured yet flexible roadmap that involves identifying areas for improvement, performing data collection and analysis, undertaking root cause analysis, generating innovative solutions, and finally implementing and standardizing these improvements across the board.

Jishuken’s flexibility is one of its strongest assets. It is versatile enough to be adapted to various organizational needs and sectors including manufacturing, logistics, warehousing, and even the public sector. The approach doesn’t just empower teams but also aligns them closely with managerial goals, thereby creating a unified, organization-wide push towards operational excellence.

By offering a comprehensive and flexible framework for identifying and solving problems, Jishuken helps organizations not just in achieving short-term gains but also in sustaining long-term improvement, thereby making it a valuable part of any Lean Six Sigma toolkit.

Key Objectives of Jishuken

The key objectives of implementing Jishuken in an organization are both clear-cut and interrelated, forming a cyclical pattern of continuous improvement. The first step is to “Identify Issues,” where the focus is on recognizing pain points, inefficiencies, or bottlenecks within a process or system. This is often done through a rigorous assessment of available data, observations, and team feedback. The aim is not just to see where things are going wrong but to prioritize them based on impact and feasibility.

The second objective is “Root Cause Analysis,” a critical phase where teams dive deep into the problems identified to understand their underlying causes. Tools like Fishbone Diagrams or the 5 Whys technique can be employed to trace back the symptoms to their origin. This ensures that the solutions developed will address the real issue rather than just the surface symptoms.

Thirdly, the objective shifts to “Develop Solutions,” where the team leverages their insights from the root cause analysis to brainstorm, create, and implement effective and sustainable solutions. These solutions can be technological, procedural, or behavioral changes aimed at rectifying the identified issues.

The final objective is to “Standardize” the process improvements. Once a solution is tested and proven to be effective, the next step is to make this new, improved process the standard across the entire organization. This might involve updating Standard Operating Procedures, training staff, or investing in new tools or technologies.

Together, these objectives form a comprehensive roadmap for using Jishuken to drive sustained, meaningful improvements in organizational performance.

The Jishuken Process

Phase 1 – Scope and Preparation

The first phase of the Jishuken process serves as the foundation upon which the entire exercise is built. Let’s delve deeper into the two main elements of this preparatory stage: Scope Definition and Team Formation.

Scope Definition: Decide on the Area of Focus

Defining the scope of the Jishuken initiative is one of the most critical steps, as it sets the stage for all subsequent activities. A clearly defined scope helps ensure that team members are aligned in their objectives and that the project remains focused.

Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Identification of Potential Areas: Before narrowing down the scope, it’s beneficial to create a list of potential areas that need improvement. These could range from specific processes to larger systems within the organization.
  2. Prioritization: Once a list is available, the next step involves prioritizing these areas. Tools like a SWOT analysis or Pareto charts can help in this regard. Factors to consider include urgency, impact, and feasibility.
  3. Final Scope: The final scope should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) to ensure a focused and attainable project. This should then be documented and communicated across the team.

Team Formation: Assemble a Multidisciplinary Team

Forming the right team is equally essential for the success of a Jishuken initiative. Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Role Definition: Identify the roles needed for the Jishuken project. This may include a project leader, data analysts, process experts, and frontline workers who are part of the process being examined.
  2. Skillset: Choose team members based on the skillsets required. Given that Jishuken is a holistic approach, it’s advisable to have a multidisciplinary team with diverse skills such as data analytics, process engineering, and subject-matter expertise.
  3. Team Size: While the team should be comprehensive, it also needs to be manageable. A team that is too large can become unwieldy, while a team that’s too small may lack the resources to complete the project effectively.
  4. Alignment and Training: Once the team is formed, it’s crucial to align everyone towards the common objective. This might involve training sessions on Jishuken methodology and the specific Lean tools that will be utilized.

By meticulously planning the scope and carefully assembling a team, you are laying a robust foundation for a successful Jishuken exercise, positioning your organization well for meaningful and sustainable improvements.

Phase 2 – Kickoff Meeting

The Kickoff Meeting in Phase 2 serves as the official launchpad for your Jishuken initiative. This crucial meeting sets the tone and pace for all subsequent activities, and its two main elements—Training and Timeline—should be planned meticulously for the successful execution of the project.

Training: Equip the Team with Necessary Lean Tools and Techniques

Before diving into the project, it’s essential to make sure everyone on the team has a clear understanding of the Lean tools and techniques they will be utilizing. Here’s how:

  1. Needs Assessment: Identify the tools and techniques that are most relevant to the project’s scope. For example, if data analysis is crucial, the team might need to understand statistical tools like control charts or regression analysis.
  2. Resource Allocation: Decide on the format and medium of the training—will it be in-house training sessions, online modules, or perhaps a combination of both?
  3. Content Creation: Develop or source training material that is tailored to your Jishuken project’s needs. Make sure to cover both theoretical concepts and practical applications.
  4. Training Sessions: Conduct the training sessions, ensuring that they are interactive and hands-on. Real-world examples can be used to illustrate the application of various tools.
  5. Knowledge Check: At the end of the training, a quick assessment or quiz can be beneficial to gauge the team’s understanding and readiness for the project.

Timeline: Create a Roadmap with Deadlines for Various Stages

Creating a clear and achievable timeline is another key aspect of the Kickoff Meeting. This roadmap should provide the team with a sense of direction and urgency. Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Phase Breakdown: Segment the Jishuken project into smaller, more manageable phases, each with its own set of tasks and objectives.
  2. Time Estimation: For each phase and task, allocate a realistic yet challenging time frame. Be mindful of other organizational commitments that might impact the schedule.
  3. Milestones: Identify key milestones that can act as checkpoints to evaluate progress and make necessary adjustments.
  4. Gantt Chart: Visual tools like a Gantt chart can be particularly useful for timeline management, allowing the team to see the entire project at a glance.
  5. Deadline Setting: Firmly set and communicate deadlines. While some flexibility is necessary, unwarranted deviations from the timeline should be avoided as they can derail the project.

By focusing on thorough Training and Timeline planning during the Kickoff Meeting, you set the stage for a structured yet agile Jishuken initiative. This ensures that your team not only understands the what and the why but also the when and the how of the project, aligning everyone towards a common goal of continuous improvement.

Phase 3 – Data Collection & Analysis

Phase 3 is pivotal in the Jishuken journey, as this is where your team gathers the necessary empirical evidence and insights that will inform your problem-solving efforts. This phase has two central components: Data Sources and Data Analysis.

Data Sources: Identify the Sources from Which Data Will be Collected

Choosing the right data sources is a critical first step in the data collection process. Incorrect or incomplete data can derail the entire Jishuken initiative. Here’s how to proceed:

  1. Type of Data: Determine what kind of data you’ll need—quantitative data like production numbers, or qualitative data like employee satisfaction surveys.
  2. Data Criteria: Define the parameters and criteria your data should meet. This could include time frames, departments involved, and the granularity of the data.
  3. Source Identification: Identify the sources where this data can be obtained. This might include internal systems, databases, or even manual observation and surveys.
  4. Data Integrity: Verify the reliability and accuracy of your sources. Ensuring data integrity is essential for the credibility of your project.
  5. Data Collection Method: Decide how the data will be collected—will it be automated through software, or will it require manual efforts? Outline the steps involved in collecting this data to make sure it’s consistently gathered.

Data Analysis: Utilize Statistical Tools to Interpret Data

After collecting the data, the next step is to make sense of it. Data that isn’t properly analyzed is of little value.

  1. Tool Selection: Choose statistical tools and software that are appropriate for the type of data you’ve collected. Common tools include SPSS, R, or even Excel for simpler analyses.
  2. Initial Inspection: Conduct a preliminary review of the data to check for outliers or inconsistencies that might skew the analysis.
  3. Data Cleaning: If inconsistencies are found, the data might need to be cleaned or transformed for analysis. This could involve removing outliers, normalizing values, or filling in missing data.
  4. Statistical Analysis: Employ statistical methods such as Descriptive Statistics, Inferential Statistics, Regression Analysis, or Hypothesis Testing to draw insights from your data.
  5. Data Visualization: Use charts, graphs, or heat maps to visually represent the data. This makes it easier to identify trends, patterns, and outliers.
  6. Interpretation: The final step is to interpret the data in the context of your project’s objectives. What story does the data tell? Are the root causes emerging clearly?

By carefully identifying data sources and then rigorously analyzing the data, Phase 3 sets the groundwork for the remaining phases of the Jishuken process. Data-backed insights give your team the confidence to develop effective, targeted solutions for continuous improvement.

Phase 4 – Root Cause Analysis

After data collection and analysis, the Jishuken process moves into Phase 4, which is dedicated to Root Cause Analysis (RCA). This is the stage where you’ll deploy tools and methodologies to dig deeper into the issues at hand. Two popular and effective tools commonly used in this phase are the Fishbone Diagram and the 5 Whys technique.

Fishbone Diagram: Use This Tool to Identify Root Causes

The Fishbone Diagram, also known as the Ishikawa Diagram or Cause-and-Effect Diagram, is an excellent tool for visually mapping out multiple root causes related to a specific problem.

  1. Problem Statement: Begin by clearly defining the problem you’re investigating. This becomes the “fish’s head,” and the causes (the “bones”) stem from it.
  2. Main Categories: Identify the primary categories of potential causes. In manufacturing, this could be the 6Ms—Man, Machine, Material, Method, Measurement, and Mother Nature (Environment).
  3. Brainstorming: Conduct a brainstorming session where team members suggest possible causes under each category. The more specific, the better.
  4. Analysis: Evaluate the potential causes, looking for patterns or clusters. Use the data gathered in Phase 3 to validate these causes.
  5. Prioritization: Highlight the most likely root causes, ideally those that if addressed, would have the most significant impact on the problem.

5 Whys: Another Effective Tool for Peeling Back the Layers to a Problem

The 5 Whys is a simpler, but no less effective, method for uncovering the root cause of a problem by asking “Why?” multiple times until you reach the fundamental issue.

  1. Initial Why: Start by asking the first “Why?” in response to the problem statement. For example, “Why did the machine fail?”
  2. Follow-Up: The answer to the first “Why?” then becomes the basis for the second “Why?”, and so on, until you’ve asked “Why?” five times—or as many times as needed to reach the root cause.
  3. Validation: It’s crucial to validate each answer in the chain with empirical evidence to ensure you’re on the right track.
  4. Root Cause Identification: By the end of the 5 Whys process, you should have peeled back the layers of symptoms to uncover the root cause.
  5. Documentation: Create a record of the 5 Whys analysis for future reference and to share with team members and stakeholders.

Both the Fishbone Diagram and the 5 Whys offer different perspectives and advantages. The Fishbone Diagram is excellent for complex problems with multiple root causes, while the 5 Whys is more suited for straightforward problems that can be solved by drilling down to a single root cause.

By employing these tools diligently, you ensure that the solutions developed in the next phase will directly address the underlying issues, thereby delivering lasting improvements.

Phase 5 – Solution Generation

Upon successfully identifying the root causes through diligent analysis, your Jishuken team moves into Phase 5—Solution Generation. This is the creative hub of the Jishuken initiative, and it involves two crucial aspects: Brainstorming for ideas and Prioritizing those ideas for implementation.

Brainstorm: Encourage Out-of-the-Box Thinking

Brainstorming is the freewheeling process where your team generates as many ideas as possible to address the identified root causes.

  1. Idea Generation: Use techniques like mind mapping, affinity diagrams, or even informal discussions to stimulate out-of-the-box thinking. The focus here is on volume and variety, not viability—yet.
  2. Inclusivity: Encourage participation from all team members, regardless of their hierarchy or expertise. Sometimes the most innovative solutions come from the most unexpected sources.
  3. Documentation: Keep a record of all ideas generated. Even ideas that don’t seem immediately relevant may offer value at later stages or in future projects.
  4. Constraints: At this stage, it’s crucial to avoid critiquing or evaluating ideas. The objective is to create an uninhibited flow of possibilities.

Prioritize: Use Tools like the Pareto Analysis to Prioritize Solutions

After the brainstorming session, the team will find itself with a plethora of possible solutions. The challenge now is to sift through them to find the most impactful and feasible ones.

  1. Initial Screening: Weed out solutions that are obviously impractical or ineffective. This leaves you with a shortlist of candidates for further analysis.
  2. Pareto Analysis: This tool helps prioritize solutions based on their expected impact. The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of your outcomes will come from 20% of your efforts. Identify the solutions that will give you the most bang for your buck.
  3. Feasibility Study: Examine the technical and economic viability of each prioritized solution. Will it require new resources, or can it be implemented with current assets?
  4. Cost-Benefit Analysis: Assess the potential ROI (Return on Investment) of each solution. Aim for high-impact, low-cost solutions that can be quickly implemented.
  5. Final Selection: Based on all these criteria, select the solutions that you will implement in the next phase.

By thoughtfully brainstorming and then rigorously prioritizing your potential solutions in Phase 5, you ensure that your Jishuken process is both creative and focused. The solutions you generate in this phase will set the stage for the execution and standardization that follows.

Phase 6 – Implementation

Phase 6 is the moment of truth in the Jishuken process—this is where your well-planned, data-backed solutions go from theoretical to practical through implementation. This phase primarily comprises two essential steps: Pilot Testing and Roll-out.

Pilot Testing: Conduct Small-Scale Tests to Measure Effectiveness

Before scaling the solution organization-wide, it’s prudent to test it on a smaller scale to assess its effectiveness and adjust as necessary.

  1. Test Design: Design your pilot test to mimic full-scale implementation as closely as possible, but on a reduced scale. Choose a segment of the process or a department where the changes will be initially applied.
  2. Metrics Selection: Decide on the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) you will use to measure the pilot’s success. These should align with the objectives set during the initial phases of the Jishuken process.
  3. Implementation: Roll out the solution in the chosen test area. Monitor its impact in real-time if possible.
  4. Data Gathering: Collect data related to the defined KPIs during the pilot phase. Compare this to the baseline data collected in Phase 3.
  5. Analysis & Feedback: Assess whether the changes have had the desired effect. Make necessary adjustments based on this analysis.

Roll-out: Implement the Changes on a Wider Scale

Once the pilot test confirms the solution’s efficacy, it’s time for full-scale implementation.

  1. Final Planning: Make any last-minute adjustments based on the pilot test feedback. Update the solution design, required resources, and timeline accordingly.
  2. Communication: Before the roll-out, communicate the upcoming changes, along with the successful pilot results, to all stakeholders. This helps in building buy-in and reducing resistance.
  3. Deployment: Implement the solution across the organization or the wider area initially identified in your project scope.
  4. Monitoring: Continue to collect data on the same KPIs to ensure the changes are achieving the intended results.
  5. Adjustment: Even post-rollout, be prepared to make adjustments. Continuous improvement is an ongoing effort.
  6. Documentation: Detailed records of the entire implementation process should be maintained. This can be invaluable for future initiatives or for rolling back changes if they don’t produce the expected outcomes.

Phase 6 serves as a capstone to your Jishuken process, where your team’s hard work comes to fruition. By meticulously planning and executing the implementation, you ensure the sustainability and success of your continuous improvement efforts.

Phase 7 – Standardization and Review

You’ve come a long way in your Jishuken journey, and now you’re at the final yet critical Phase 7—Standardization and Review. This phase ensures that the improvements made are not just a one-off event but become a part of the organization’s DNA. It comprises two primary steps: developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and a continual Review for sustainable improvement.

Standard Operating Procedures: Document the New, Optimized Processes

After the successful roll-out of the solutions, the next step is to codify these new processes into SOPs, which act as the playbook for your operations.

  1. Drafting SOPs: Create detailed documents outlining the newly implemented processes. These should include step-by-step instructions, necessary resources, responsible parties, and corresponding timelines.
  2. Quality Checks: Have subject matter experts or senior team members review the SOPs for accuracy, comprehensiveness, and clarity.
  3. Approval: Once verified, the SOPs should be approved by the relevant authorities in your organization.
  4. Training: Conduct training sessions to educate all stakeholders on the new procedures. Make use of various training tools like manuals, video demonstrations, or interactive workshops.
  5. Distribution: Make the SOPs easily accessible, whether that’s through an internal portal, physical binders, or other means.

Review: Continuous Monitoring for Sustainable Improvement

Even after standardization, the Jishuken process doesn’t really ‘end.’ The essence of continuous improvement is that it’s continuous!

  1. KPI Tracking: Continue to monitor the same KPIs that were selected during the pilot phase. Frequent monitoring allows you to spot any deviations quickly.
  2. Performance Reviews: Schedule regular intervals—whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly—for a formal review of the process. This should involve analyzing the KPI data and obtaining feedback from team members.
  3. Corrective Action: If any inconsistencies or issues are identified during the reviews, corrective measures should be taken promptly. Update the SOPs as needed.
  4. Celebration and Recognition: Acknowledge the team’s hard work and celebrate the improvements. This boosts morale and encourages future participation in continuous improvement efforts.
  5. Loop Back: If a new problem or opportunity for improvement is identified during reviews, it might be the beginning of your next Jishuken project.

Phase 7 ensures that your hard work is sustained over the long term and paves the way for future improvement projects. By meticulously documenting the new processes and setting up a robust review mechanism, you make continuous improvement a part of your organizational culture.

Benefits of Jishuken

As you embark on or continue your journey with Jishuken, understanding the manifold benefits of this practice can serve as motivational fuel and can help justify the investment of time, energy, and resources into the initiative. Here are some key advantages that you should consider:

Employee Empowerment: Jishuken Encourages an Autonomous Approach to Problem-Solving

  1. Ownership: By involving employees in the process of problem identification and solution generation, you’re giving them a sense of ownership over their work and the changes that take place.
  2. Skill Development: Employees acquire new skills, from data analysis to project management, which can enhance their personal and professional growth.
  3. Job Satisfaction: Being part of the solution rather than the problem contributes to higher job satisfaction and morale, which can significantly impact productivity and retention.
  4. Leadership Training: Jishuken serves as an incubator for future leaders by providing opportunities for team members to spearhead initiatives or specific phases of the process.

Flexibility: Jishuken is Adaptable to Various Issues and Can Integrate Various Lean Tools

  1. Tool Agnostic: One of the strongest assets of Jishuken is that it isn’t tied to a particular set of tools or methodologies. Whether you prefer using Six Sigma’s DMAIC approach or Lean tools like Kaizen, Jishuken accommodates them.
  2. Scalability: Whether you’re looking at a small operational hiccup or an organization-wide systemic issue, Jishuken is versatile enough to be scaled to the problem’s magnitude.
  3. Cross-functional Relevance: Jishuken is not confined to manufacturing or any particular sector. Its principles can be applied across functions like HR, marketing, and logistics.

Holistic Improvement: Jishuken Aims at Improving the System as a Whole Rather Than Piecemeal Changes

  1. System Thinking: Instead of applying band-aid fixes to isolated issues, Jishuken encourages you to look at challenges as part of a larger system. This leads to solutions that are far more sustainable and impactful in the long run.
  2. Cultural Shift: By making problem-solving and continuous improvement a team effort, you instill a culture of excellence that permeates every layer of your organization.
  3. Business Metrics: Holistic improvements are likely to manifest in key business metrics, be it higher customer satisfaction, reduced costs, or increased revenue, thereby making a case for the ROI of Jishuken.

Understanding these benefits not only provides your team with a clearer sense of purpose but also helps stakeholders comprehend the value that Jishuken can bring to your organization.


Embarking on a Jishuken journey is more than just another exercise in problem-solving; it’s an investment in cultivating a culture of continuous improvement and employee empowerment. Through its structured yet flexible approach, Jishuken offers a comprehensive framework that combines the best of Lean methodologies, data analysis, and collaborative team dynamics. It brings the spotlight onto systemic thinking over short-term fixes and injects agility into your problem-solving efforts.

As you cycle through defining scope, assembling teams, analyzing data, and rolling out effective solutions, you’re not merely enhancing operational aspects but transforming your organizational ethos. But remember, the journey doesn’t end with the implementation; instead, it marks the beginning of a new culture, a new way of thinking, a new way of ‘doing.’ Make Jishuken your cornerstone for sustainable improvement and set your organization on the path to excellence.


A: Jishuken is a specialized form of kaizen, or continuous improvement, focused on solving complex and critical issues within a manufacturing or business process. Unlike standard kaizen events, which might involve broader teams and wider objectives, Jishuken is typically more intensive, involving a smaller, cross-functional team dedicated to tackling high-priority problems. This approach encourages deep dives into processes, fostering significant learning and development opportunities for the participants.

A: A Jishuken team is usually composed of members from various departments, including front-line workers, supervisors, engineers, and sometimes even senior management. The diversity of the team ensures a comprehensive understanding of the problem from multiple perspectives. Key roles include a Jishuken leader, usually someone with deep experience in Lean Six Sigma practices, and team members who contribute their expertise and insights. Each member plays a critical role in identifying issues, brainstorming solutions, and implementing changes.

A: Planning a Jishuken event begins with the identification of a critical problem area that requires immediate attention. Goals and objectives are clearly defined, and a team is assembled. The event typically follows a structured approach, starting with a detailed process analysis, followed by root cause identification, solution brainstorming, and rapid experimentation or implementation phases. Throughout the Jishuken, daily reviews and adjustments are common, ensuring that the team stays focused and adapts to findings in real-time.

A: The primary goal of Jishuken is to achieve significant improvements in a targeted area, such as reducing waste, increasing efficiency, or improving quality. Beyond the immediate problem-solving benefits, Jishuken aims to foster a deeper understanding of Lean principles among participants, encouraging a culture of continuous improvement. It also enhances teamwork across departments and levels, breaking down silos and promoting a more cohesive organizational culture.

A: Sustaining improvements requires a structured approach to change management and continuous monitoring. After a Jishuken event, it’s crucial to document the changes made, communicate them across the organization, and establish standard work procedures to embed the new practices into daily operations. Regular audits and follow-up activities can help ensure that the improvements are maintained over time, and lessons learned are applied to future initiatives.


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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website www.learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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