Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kaizen Only Goes So Far

It goes by many names: 2 Second Lean, 5S in 5 Minutes, Quick and Easy Kaizen and other non-branded techniques. Kaizen is often sold as the elixer to cure your organization.

And it's true! Kaizen works.

But don't take it from me. Lean professionals like Paul Atkers and Norman Bodek have years of experience under their belts, so this simple kaizen stuff must have something going for it.

kaizen ain't rocket science

Adjectives like quick and easy make it seem like lean is a no-brainer. So why isn't everyone doing it? And if it's so easy, why are there hundreds of books on the subject?

I like to think of lean implementation as a two sided coin. Two methods, working together for lean success. You can use them in isolation, but you'll have limited results.

The Quick and Dirty Kaizen

Quick kaizen is the first side of the coin. The word kaizen is often translated as "small change". Many kaizens means many small changes. These kaizen methodologies teach us to use lots of small kaizens to achieve big change.

A small kaizen is a great way to get immediate results. A pile of small improvements are visible, easy to understand and measurable. Creating a pilot cell is one way to showcase a list improvements and to spread the lean juice to the organization. And that's what kaizen is really about, engagement and culture change!

The true meaning of kaizen is "good change," or "change for the better." So kaizens can be small, but they can also be big. As long as they're good!

Small, quick kaizen activities are the best way to get employees on board and develop a lean culture. A kaizen event should be treated as a training tool and an investment in people. Once team members start coming up with their own kaizens, then you know things are moving in the right direction.

Check out this video example of an employee with a simple "2-Second Lean" kaizen.

That video is a great example of a simple kaizen implemented by a shop floor employee. Will it save a lot of money? No, but a combination of hundreds of these kaizens might!

Quick kaizens are all about employee engagement. With an engaged work force, you will be flooded with ideas. And if you empower your employees to follow through and do it themselves, then you've achieved a cultural shift.

However, in order to create a motivated band of kaizeners, you need to allocate some resources. Managers and supervisors need to be trained and coached. Plans need to be made.

And that's where the other side of the coin comes in.

The Lean Long View

If your business is failing, simple kaizen might not be enough to save it. Quick and easy kaizen is exactly what it claims. Easy and quick, but not necessarily game changing!

You may need to make some serious changes, and team members aren't always empowered to make them. Even simply sustaining an employee suggestion program is a large project that requires planning and thought.

Don't forget the big picture!

It's the same reason nobody wants to think about the fifth S in 5S (Sustain). It's too hard! It's easy to focus on the little improvements and forget the big picture.

Lean needs to be part of system design and strategic planning in order to make large leaps in productivity and profitability. Big, strategic decisions are where money is made and lost. You might be able to fix some problems with kaizen events, but often the group wonders why the money was spent on such an inefficient process to begin with.

Use A3's to plan your processes. Use value stream maps and standardized work before buying machinery. Use Hoshin Kanri to create shared strategic goals and focus on how to drive them into every level of every process. Hold daily stand-up meetings to communicate actions on how to achieve these goals.

Without a smart strategic approach, all the investment you put into kaizen will be wasted. Big money will be spent on the wrong things and lean efforts will regress, as the focus shifts.

Lean is a two-pronged fork. Use kaizen to get immediate results and engage your employees. Use Hoshin Kanri and lean management to get even closer to True North !



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