Friday, December 09, 2005

Project Kaizen: the Kaizen Blitz

Project Kaizen: the Kaizen Blitz

The Kaizen Blitz or Kaizen Event is a technique that our own
Norman Bodek was instrumental in demonstrating for the first time here in the US. At that time, they called it “Five Days and One Night”, indicative of the fact that four of the five days of work allowed for no sleep, at least symbolically.

I first learned how to do a Kaizen Event during a fateful week at Wiremold’s Brooks Division in Philadelphia. They invited me, an outsider, to fully participate with them as “fresh eyes” for the event. They did far more for me and my company than I did for them…it was truly one of the most influential weeks of my entire career.

I’ve since participated in and led a lot of Kaizen Events. I always (and I do mean always) learn something new and significant. And the more I do them, the less I realize I know. This business of relentlessly eliminating waste is a very humbling exercise.

I have thought a lot about how to describe a Kaizen Event in the context of a project team. I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be close to impossible to do in a
loosely coupled team as Hal described one. I had the chance to do this once. A very talented leader took us through a week-long event with four different companies, all involved in sequential supply to one another. We documented, conservatively, $11M of cash savings to be had in six months with no capital investment. And it went nowhere. There simply was not the shared belief or trust or dependence to make it happen. A major disappointment, to say the least. The lack of “coupling” between the parties destroyed any chance of success.

To do a Kaizen Event in a workgroup or a closely coupled team, however, would be much like doing an event in single work cell. It takes some planning and leadership. And there is no way to learn to do this without actually being a part of it in practice.

George Koenigsaecker, along with Norman, is one of this country’s most seasoned Lean leaders. In his recent article
Leadership in Lean Transformation, (thanks again to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers for this publication) he describes how one learns to lead a Kaizen event. In short, you have to watch it and do it. And do it. And do it. The article will help you understand it.

Why is it hard to learn to lead a Kaizen event? Because it turns most conventional logic on its head. You have to experience it to grasp it. You can make big changes quickly. It is exciting. It is boring. You will freak people out. You will threaten others. You will learn more than you ever imagined you could learn. It is a project that accomplishes so much in so little time, you will be breathless. And others, being threatened, will seek to undermine it. And you.

If you have been involved in a Kaizen event, you are smiling and nodding now in a knowing sort of way. If you have not, you are probably looking for a hyperlink to click and move away from this senseless text. But if, by chance, you are still with me I encourage you to read what my cobloggers have to say on the subject. And, then see if you can participate in a Kaizen Blitz. Somewhere. Somehow. I wish I could make it easier for you. But I can’t.

And your project team will never be the same.

Read my friends’ comments on this today.
Bill Waddell
Chuck Frey
Hal Macomber
Jon Miller
Mark Graban
Norman Bodek

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