Posts Tagged ‘kaizen’

Are You Sure you’re Ready for that Kaizen Event?

Friday, April 30th, 2010

So you think you’re ready for a kaizen event.  Maybe this is your first attempt, or maybe kaizen is already a part of your culture.  If your business is mostly mass production with the same operators and few changeovers, you may have standardized work firmly embedded in your operations and you may have high conformance to the established procedures.    Unfortunately, this is not the situation for many manufacturers.  Some of us contend with changeovers on every shift (or shorter) and mid-volume down to single piece quantity requirements.  The result may be a different team member performing an operation each time the job runs.

To find out if a process is kaizen ready, try this simple test.   Ask different employees at different times to explain how they do their part of the process.  You must ask in such a way that your question is not seen as part of a test, audit or performance review to insure that you don’t get the “official” answer.   Having a visitor or non manufacturing person ask the question is even better. 

Obviously, if the person by person descriptions of the job are radically different you are not ready for a kaizen event.  If lean principles are part of your operations strategy you will probably not hear radically different descriptions, especially if you have already worked on this particular operation or work cell.  You may, however, hear subtle clues that indicate the operation is not as standardized as you think.

Phrases like “here is how I do it”, “so and so might do it differently”, “any way that works”, “whichever method you like, as long as you end up with…”, “I like to get these all finished first”, “I do this at the end” are indicators that the concept of standardized work is not clearly understood and probably not effective on this operation.

You may believe that you (or your organization) have “explained” standardized work sufficiently but it is usually not that simple.  This is because the underlying principle of one best method is counter intuitive; therefore, simply having standardized work explained is not sufficient to create uniform practices by team members.  Permanent behavior change comes as team members participate in the process of work design and create a better result, by selecting one method and continually improving it.  Indeed, one criterion for choosing the initial method is the likelihood that it can be improved even if all agree it is not currently the best way.

One of the most important characteristics to develop in your production team is the element of “buy in” created as the team works through the process as described above.  As the continuous improvement process causes further refinement of the method, the team will come to own that procedure.  When each individual discovers that the continually improving procedure produces better results than any of their original methods, there is a high likelihood that the team will embrace and defend it.

It is at this point that kaizen events can begin with a process already improved, due to the reduction in variation normally caused by different operators.

Standardized work is an important pre-requisite to a successful kaizen event.  Without it, it’s like taking a different route to work every day while trying to optimize fuel efficiency by improving your braking.  Since true “buy in” usually is weak when the standardized work method is first written, it is incumbent on the facilitator to make sure it is actually in practice before attempting structured kaizen events.

That’s Manufacturing Made Easy.

Your Comments are always welcome.

Bill MacDonald     is an experienced Operations Manager/Technical Director and owner at

 JLS Consulting of Midland, Michigan. 

For more information visit our web site www.MFGmadeEZ.com or Email Bill’s Email