Kaizen – Breakthrough Improvement

Organizations are faced with numerous improvement choices and buzzwords everywhere; Kaizen, Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, TQM, Process Reengineering, Value Propositions. Sometimes the wrong choice is made based on the latest fad or recommendation of another. We rarely take the time to step back, identify, and analyze what the real issues are and the type of method to use.

Let’s take a look at one of these improvement choices that we use with our clients,  and highly recommend due to its minimal investment costs and high rate of return.

Kaizen (usually pronounced ‘kyzan’ or ‘kyzen’ in the western world) is a Japanese word, commonly translated to mean ‘continuous improvement’. Kaizen is a core principle of quality management aligned within the methods of Total Quality Management and ‘Lean Thinking. Kaizen is a methodology aimed at the elimination of waste in every area of the business including customer relations, manufacturing and service delivery, design, supplier networks and office management. Its goal is to incorporate less human effort, less inventory, less time to develop products and services, and less space to become highly responsive to customer demand while producing top quality services in the most efficient and economical manner possible.

The principles of Kaizen are based upon:

  • Waste is hidden in all processes
  • Identifying and eliminating waste impacts costs and customer satisfaction
  • When waste is identified, it becomes clear that it adds no value to the customer and increases operating costs.

In order to focus improvements on what matters, we have to clearly understand the interests of the people involved. These can include customers, stakeholders, suppliers, management, and employees. Kaizen uses a team approach. Team membership is made up of personnel who do the work. The team uses analytical tools and techniques to review systems and identify ways to improve and eliminate waste of time, money, materials, resources and effort to increase productivity and customer satisfaction.

What are Kaizen Events?

Kaizen events are focused three-to five-day breakthrough events that generally include the following activities:

  • Training
  • Defining the event scope /goals
  • Documenting the current state
  • Brainstorming and developing a future state
  • Implement improvements and presenting results
  • Follow-up activities.

Pre-event training up to two hours or more is preferred to achieve familiarity with lean principles and tools training. Training should cover basic lean principles, eight wastes, benefits of standard work, event methods and team roles. More advanced training with method and tools are introduced during the event on an as-needed basis.

Determining the event scope is the leader’s responsibility. When determining event scope, the leaders contribute relevant information such as event drivers, current state performance, and the desired performance. Variables can include 1) How aggressive are the event objectives? 2) Current state understanding in relationship to time and team members. 3) Process complexity can include the number of steps, systems, and personnel involvement. 4) Solutions complexity – What can be done now, and what will be part of the follow-up plan?

Documenting the current state by mapping and flowing the processes that are involved you will be able to identify and eliminate the waste that causes the delays. Creating benchmark metrics will give you a baseline and let you identify where the problems in your processes really are and measure impact of changes. Metrics include process time (touch time) lead time (turnaround time) and percent complete and accurate. Remember that time is the primary metric in a lean approach, so determining the critical path of your mapping will determine the overall lead time.

Brainstorming and developing a future state. With the current state documented, the Kaizen team members identify the waste in the process, determine root cause for the waste, and design effective countermeasures which becomes part of the future sate design. Analyzing the current state includes identifying the value-adding and necessary non-value adding steps with the primary customer in mind, the end user of the product or service. Specific root cause analysis tools are used to evaluate, prioritize, and select improvements the team will implement during the event. The goal is to highlight the process steps that contain the greatest waste, and improve the process using a number of metrics for future state implementation.

Implement improvements and presenting results. Measurable, incremental improvement requires the team to focus on what can be done within the event timeframe. All improvements should make work easier, and an improvement must generate positive measurable results. During this phase team members are identifying potential future training requirements, anticipated benefits, and a sustainability work plan. This plan can include process monitoring, 30 to 60 day action plans, user inputs for process modification, and process compliance audits. The team is responsible for presenting their project results to the leadership group. A formal reporting process is used which includes event objectives, key improvements implemented, and projected and measurable results.

Follow-up Activities. The improvement cycle is never over when the kaizen event concludes. Measuring, monitoring, and continual improvement is key to ensuring sustainability. Management and team follow-up meetings are needed to monitor progress, track results, and conduct lessons-learned activities are required. Part of this important stage is to conduct post-event process audits to ensure the improvements have been done, the new processes are being followed, and improvements are having the intended results. The “actual after measurement” metrics are documented to validate or alter the projected improvements defined in the future state process. Many organizations fail at this stage because they don’t aggressively continue to measure and analyze processes.

Kaizen works best when it is ‘owned’ by people, who see the concept as both empowering of individuals and teams, and a truly practical way to improve quality and performance. Developing a continuous improvement organization ensures improvements produce not only better productivity and profit for the organization, but also better recognition and reward and other positive benefits for employees, whose involvement drives the change and improvement in the first place.

Next month we will continue with “Why Kaizen” and share a recent client Kaizen project next and its results.   The client is a large Medical and Dental Service Provider.

Share with us your organizational Kaizen experiences and best practices, reply!

2 Responses to “Kaizen – Breakthrough Improvement”

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