Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Kaizen Process, Lived Out

Have had sparse blogging lately, due to getting work done. Most significant was a recent four-day kaizen event with a vendor. I don't think I've ever been on an event where I didn't learn something very useful. This one was more chock-full of learnings than most.

The kaizen's objective was to construct a value stream map of a particular family of products. Which we did. And so much more came out while trying to do a thorough job on that one task. The high points of learning:

  • A kaizen requires focus. If it isn't focused, it isn't rapid improvement. It picks up the pace of change. It says "let's try it now and see if it works. The sooner we know, the sooner we can get to something even better."
  • A kaizen requires a clear goal. We actually had three groups running in parallel. Two of the three came pretty close to hitting the goal. The third missed it by more. IMO, due to a much fuzzier goal.
  • A kaizen requires a simple goal. It seems we are often happier going broad and shallow than narrow and deep. The kaizen method drives to the latter. It seeks clear results and full implementation. A simple goal forces depth.
  • Some people get it; some don't. I'd like to say this more delicately but can't. Some kaizen participants grasped that change can happen and get into it. Others just resisted, declined to participate or, at times, become downright ornery. Is it the clarity that emerges that threatens? Is it the fact they didn't volunteer but were asked to be on the kaizen? Is it worry about retribution? I don't know...but it happens on almost every kaizen event I'm on.
  • Follow up determines success. What do kaizen participants do with the "to do" list at the end? Ignore it, just glad it is over? Drive hard to completion? Follow up determines what will happen.
  • The closeout, management review session is crucial. I saw one of the best ever on Thursday. The CEO of our host company was intently involved and asked very good (and very hard) questions at the review, while affirming the results and efforts of the teams.
It was a great four days. I hope you can benefit from this description.

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