What is Nemawashi?
Nemawashi is a Japanese term which literally translated means ‘work around the roots’. It is a consensus building technique that aims at removing obstacles to proposal approval by seeking an informal audience with the decision makers before a formal meeting is held.
The concept is not about lobbying as many people think of it because with lobbying there is a hint of unprofessional conduct involved. Lobbying would mean doing all that you can to get you project approved even if it means politics and bribing people. In Nemawashi, people use informal meetings to seek approval so that the process can take less time and to get everyone on the same page.
Benefits of Nemawashi
There are many benefits of Nemawashi:
- Prior engagement with the decision makers makes it easier for them to understand the details of the proposal
- Increases enthusiasm and commitment during the implementation stage as everyone has been brought on board
- Reduces the chances of future conflicts because all the difficult issues will have been sorted out by the time the project is been implemented
- The iterative nature of the meetings results in the idea been improved upon continuously such that by the time it is approved, it is a far better version than what was presented in the beginning
- Decision making meetings become more efficient and less acrimonious because everybody has a good understanding of the proposal
- By using Nemawashi to get an idea or project proposal approved, the initiator has a high chance of success because all the details will be known by the decision-makers before the formal meeting begins.
- Saves the decision makers any embarrassment that may be caused when new information that they had no knowledge of is presented to them
- Even when the projects are declined, the initiator understands the reasons and does not feel disappointed.
- Kaizen- This is the philosophy of continual improvement of the people and processes within an organization with an aim of reducing waste and delivering value to the customer.
- Nemawashi- A system of consensus building that first seeks informal approval of initiatives before the formal process begins.
- Countermeasures- Solutions that are developed after thorough investigation of causes of a problem .
- A3 Sheet- A form of reporting used in lean organizations that puts all the important metrics in a single piece of paper. It encourages concise and accurate reporting.
Initiating Nemawashi Meeting
When a person has a project idea that the want approved by the decision makers, they have various ways of initiating a Nemawashi meeting.
- Formal Nemawashi – This is normally a one-on-one or small group meeting with the decision makers before the main meeting.
- Informal Nemawashi- This is normally through direct approach and the proposer meets the decision maker in informal settings.
The meetings are conversational in nature and the main goal is persuasion while avoiding the public disagreements that are likely to occur in a formal meeting.
Nemawashi as used in Kaizen
Nemawashi is all about carefully considering options before implementing them. It ties in with the Toyota Way Kaizen principle that states:
“Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly”
According to this principle, it is better to spend 10 months building consensus while considering all options before implementing for 2 months, than to spend 10 months correcting problems created by rushed implementation.
Nemawashi Approach to Decision Making
When one has identified the problem area in an organization that needs improvement, they investigate the problems and come up with countermeasures. These implementation of the countermeasures may require major changes or resources to be given. There may also need to be a project to implement these countermeasures and consensus must be sought in order to get the project up and running. The following steps are helpful in seeking consensus through Nemawashi:
- Project proposal is presented in an A3 Sheet which should start the current conditions, root causes of the problem, cost to the business and proposed countermeasures.
- The project proposal document is sent to all the relevant parties for review before seeking consensus. One on one meetings are done with peers and decision makers so as to get their input and support.
- Rewrite the project proposal based on the input given by the decision makers and peers.
- Decision making meeting takes place. This meeting is pre-arranged to make a formal decision to support the project and is more of a formality.
Unlike in most companies, the meetings in the Japanese and kaizen cultures are short and are used to endorse a decision that has largely already been reached through the Nemawashi process. This makes the meeting less noisy and adversarial than in most companies.
Nemawashi Approach at Toyota
The Toyota Company epitomises the how prior consultation is important in moving projects along in a smooth manner by getting all the right people on board. Nowhere is this concept of Nemawashi more accurately portrayed than in the development process of the development of Toyota’s two most popular car models- the Prius and the Toyota Lexus.
In the development of both car models, Toyota was seeking to do things that had never been done before which called for creative thinking by the team members. This meant that project teams needed to give outside the box ideas to their superiors which would be hard if there was no prior consultation with their superiors.
There were many incidents were ideas that had never been tested before had to be presented to the top management for approval and without consensus decision making, such ideas would never see the light of the day.
Nemawashi is a Japanese management paradigm that values consensus in the decision making process. It is a simple yet effective way for ideas within an organization of getting everyone on the same page before making important decisions.
With Nemawashi management systems, any employee can develop a proposal and circulate it to all levels of management before seeking approval. The nemawashi process is a very effective way of gathering as much input as possible from many levels within the organization so that by the time the decision is being made, consensus has already been reached.
The process cuts across all levels of the supply chain and in many instances may also include suppliers together with other players who contribute their ideas before the decision is made.
There are many situations in which Nemawashi can come in handy especially when conflict may arise if there is no consensus. It is a slow and deliberate effort to get as many people on board at the onset of any project so that the implementation face can be as smooth as possible.
When one looks at how typical non-lean companies approach consensus building, it is clear that they do not value it as much as lean manufacturers. In fact, if for example a project has to be implemented within one year, you will find that traditional companies will spend less time planning and consulting. They rush to implement the projects but face a myriad of problems that could have been avoided had they consulted widely and gained consensus.
In lean manufacturing firms on the other hand, planning is done for a longer period of time and this results in a faster implementation stage that is devoid of any hurdles. This is because all the possible problems are ironed out before implementation is done.
Nemawashi addresses the problem of resistance by the workforce earlier on because all issues are brought to the table. This saves time and money that would have been spent trying to address the issues brought about by the resistance. There is also a lot of learning that is gained from the Nemawashi process even before anything is planned or implemented.