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Yamazumi Boards

Updated on February 18, 2011

Yamazumi Boards

Yamazumi Charts are typically found in Japanese factories that use the lean production concepts made famous by the Toyota Production System. This hub shows how you can create Yamazumi charts to improve any process in your home or office.

So what is a Yamazumi chart? Think of it as a revolutionary, visual method of identifying the roadblocks in a business process. This example shows a simple printing process at a copy shop.

A Yamazumi board is just a stacked bar chart. In Japanese, the word "Yamazumi" literally means "to stack up". The business process starts at the base of the column, and each block is shown by minutes taken. The aim is to show operator and process cycle times.

1. The steps that are necessary to the process but do not really "add value" are in orange.

2. The steps that make a real difference - the execution steps - are in green.

3. The waste in the process - the blockage or failure mode - is in red. In this example the problem is a breakdown in the printing machine that requires time and energy to fix.

These are the failures that must be eliminated through such lean production techniques as kaizen (continuous improvement) and poka-yoke (simple but effective) solutions. For more advanced business problems Six Sigma thinking can be used to analyse the root causes of problems using the celebrated DMAIC (Define - Measure - Analyse - Improve - Control) methodology.

Yamazumi Boards

Yamazumi Chart - Example
Yamazumi Chart - Example

The Five Advantages of Yamazumi Boards

1. It's visual. If a picture is worth a thousand words, it's worth a hundred thousand figures. With Yamazumi charts (also known as Yamazumi boards as they literally are signboards in the "visual factory"), workers can immediately and intuitively see where the delays are coming from.

2. It's simple. Clarity is power. Who needs a management consultant's detailed report, when a Yamazumi Board tells the story at a single glance.

3. It's inescapable. Hanging above the production line, the Yamazumi Board is a constant, perpetual exhortation to continuous improvement, or Kaizen.

4. It's public. This one can't go straight to the "circular file". The Yamazumi Board is in the open, glaringly so. With competitive work teams, this is a great motivator to positive performance improvement. Nothing motivates better than public disclosure of results among colleagues.

5. It pinpoints the vital few opportunities that can change everything. Remember the Pareto Principle. 20% of all causes account for 80% of results. With a Yamazumi Board, you can see visually where the key constraints, the key roadblocks are. Magnify the power of your process by focusing on the "vital few". This is a key Six Sigma principle as the Y=f(x) methodology explains. Inputs drive outputs, and you should focus on the inputs to deliver better outputs.

The Yamazumi board proves that simplicity really is power. Remember the philosophical concept of Occam's razor? This arose from the wise words of 14th century English physician William of Ockham. He argued that "entities should not be multiplied unecessarily", meaning that the simplest theory solution is usually the best. A Yamazumi board will help you find it.

Yamazumi Your Life!

Are the Yamazumi Boards only useful if you work in a Japanese car factory? Think again. This innocent little stacked bar charts can turbocharge your life.

(1) In the office

Take any task in the office which is burdensome and complex. It may be anything from cutting code or drafting legal documents. Regardless of its nature, every business process will have three features - preparation time, execution time that adds value and blockages or delays that slow the process.

Draw up a simple Yamazumi for your chosen process. Look out for the "hidden factory" of re-work. This represents the COPQ (cost of poor quality) in the process which is rarely evaluated or calculated correctly because it is often not measured. How can you improve your process to make the bar as green as possible, and shorten the cycle time?

(2) The Whole Life Yamazumi

I challenge you to map your entire life as a Yamazumi Chart for an entire week. This can be done in a simple spreadsheet. First, break your week down into seven columns of 24 hours. This isn't intended as an exercise in creating unnecessary work, so just give your time buckets a quick summary e.g. "lunch" or "gym" and assign a colour to the chunk of this time. Lunch would be Yellow because it is a maintenance rather than a "value add" function. Then map your Yamazumi chart, hour by hour, to see where the real value is.

This may seem an odd exercise, but it might be just as eye-opening for you as it was for the workers on the Toyota line when they first implemented the lean production strategies that became globally famous as the Toyota Production System. You can read the full story in "The Machine That Changed The World" by Womack, Jones and Roos.

As the Pareto principle suggests, a few key inputs yield impressive outputs. And the sheer amount of time spent on non-value added activities (watching TV) or maintenance activities (sleeping, eating) is astounding. Even the green activities may be sub-optimal, because there is opportunity cost - some actions yield more fruit than others. You realise after a time that just a few modifications, a few tweaks to the production line, could - if they are consistently maintained - change your life.

The Yamazumi Board, you will find, has real power.

(c) WestOcean 2009


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      Trenton 3 years ago

      I appreciate your kind and geeruons advice a lot!. I have been trying it hardly and did not get those amazing results!. It is nice to see that you got my comment in a good way!God bless you!VA:F [1.9.10_1130]please wait VA:F [1.9.10_1130](from 0 votes)

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      Chris Coles 6 years ago


      I found an interesting article about Yamazumi here:

      There is also a link to a free Yamazumi template. Looks really good.