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Ringi (also ringi seido, ringi system) is a decision making process in Japanese management systems. It is a bottom-up approach that overcomes traditional hierarchic process. It can be regard as an alternative or as valuable supplement to the methods prevalent in Western culture.

The difference in Japanese style of management comes from long years of country and economy closed to other cultures. This led to development of own approach to business based on Confucian philosophy, Buddhism and Bushido. In Western culture the importance of decisions to make is related to level in hierarchy. Top managers make the most important decisions. In Japanese culture managers are expected to reach consensus or even delegate decision making to subordinates. The final decision emerges as a balance of views of different employees. No one expects the managers to be infallible.

The Ringi means:

RIN - submitting a proposal to supervisor and receiving approval

GI - discussion and decision making

The ringi process

The communication in Japanese enterprise has many layers: formal and informal, top-down, bottom-up, horizontal and even diagonal. The decision making process is therefore difficult to describe, as almost any employee in the company can become the starting point or add value on some step of the process.

The proposal of decision (problem solutions) can be issued by any manager, and then it circulates across the enterprise through all workplaces that are affected by the decision. The general procedure is as follows:

  1. Proposal. Usually issued by middle manager, but sometimes also top executives. However, in most cases, top manager will let his subordinates to propose, because too much authority could limit discussion. Moreover, top managers can observe skills of subordinates.
  2. Circulation. All interested managers receive proposal and can add own comments. This includes meetings, discussions, Nemawashi. The propositions of lower managers are presented in document called ringi-sho, which contains their ideas. This document is circulated through various departments.
  3. Approval. Each department which receives ringi-sho can put own seal (hanko) to confirm agreement for the proposition. In some cases, the ringi-sho has to be withdrawn and new version with some changes is put into circulation. The final seal is put by the president of the company. The final seal is necessary, however is usually only confirms approvals of other managers.
  4. Record. The decision is written, published and executed.

The ringi process is a very democratic way of decision making. It allows all the managers to show respect for Japanese culture, especially: respect for elders, loyalty, harmony, working for collective good, obligation, duty and honour.

Ringi in lean

The Ringi can be a helpful tool, but it shouldn't be used as buzzword. In many implementations of lean managers treat lean tools as buzzwords, not real tools that can help create value. This approach doesn't motivate employees to use them. Also the analysis of needs should be done before implementing any such tool. It is possible, that some methods won't work in certain company. Is is also possible, that the company uses already better methods.

In Toyota Ringi was required for all projects that cost more than $5000, and level of approval depends on the overall cost. The more expensive the project, the more detailed ringi-sho should be. Ringi should be signed by people responsible for fields that are related to the project. Every company should create own procedures for ringi, depending on organizational structure, production type, etc. [ArtofLean.org].

Strengths and weaknesses of ringi

The strengths are:

  • Democratic
  • Likely to get general acceptance
  • Easy and efficient implementation

The weaknesses are:

  • Too many people involved
  • Too long time to make decision
  • No clear responsibility

Example of ringi-sho

Date April 10th, 2016
Subject Proposal to start cooperation with new customer X
Objective To start cooperation with X and reach sales volume of 300 products per month
Background The meeting with representative of X happen during the international trade fairs in March 2016. The representative was interested in long-term cooperation.
Details The company is on the market since 1990. According to stock exchange data it has good financial status. It has high reputation on the market. The company extends its offer, which was the cause of discussion during thade fairs.
Request Please indicate your concurrence for starting cooperation with X


Author: Slawomir Wawak