Tips for Lean Managers

Kaizen is Like Climbing a Mountain: Drive Stakes in Along the Way

By Jon Miller Published on July 12th, 2004

The team leader of a kaizen project, we’ll call him Tim, was very disappointed in the weeks immediately after a kaizen. Tim was the supervisor of the area, and when he checked in on the machine operators he found that there was inventory building up again and some of the changes made during the kaizen had been undone.
The team had made great progress during the kaizen week establishing standard procedures, cutting down on WIP, and identifying and eliminating wasteful steps, all in all cutting out 25% of the hands-on time. Most of these gains were achieved most of the time, but there was some slippage.
It’s not rare that a kaizen team achieves a lot during the kaizen week, and fails to sustain all of the gains in the following weeks. There are many reasons for this:
1) Lack of management attention
2) Lack of buy-in or involvement from area workers
3) Lack of follow through on action items
In Tim’s case it was none of the above, but a case of having simply made more good things happen during the kaizen week than they could keep an eye on and sustain. The proverbial ‘water level’ had been lowered to the point where the rocks were visible.
Another analogy is that it was similar to running up a mountain without driving in stakes along the way to make sure when you slipped on a loose patch of gravel you didn’t slide half-way down the mountain. You need to make sure that even if you start slipping back, you lose gains only to a certain point and don’t end up all the way back down the mountain.
Everyone agreed with the math and with the demonstration improved process, but not everyone had a chance to work in the new process before the kaizen week was done. Some of the parts that were not included in the top 80% analyzed during the kaizen week also caused problems.
In this case some of the ‘stakes’ that needed to be driven in included additional timing of the 20% items, additional time for workers to train and become comfortable in the new method, and visual controls to help the new methods become habit.
In addition to providing the time and attention needed to complete kaizen action items it is often necessary to put in visuals that help indicate how things should be run and when things begin to go awry.
What’s most important is that you celebrate the gains, remain positive and be prepared to take a step back and take another run at the mountain.

  1. Sonu.S.Andrews

    March 8, 2007 - 11:16 pm

    Can single minute exchange of dies concept be used in office?
    We minimise the lead time for quoting to customer by using standard formats and SOP’s. Can this be called SMED?

  2. Jon Miller

    March 9, 2007 - 1:02 am

    Yes indeed. Here is a short post explaining how.
    Your example may be SMED, but it sounds more like you reduced manual process time and overall lead time as well.
    Good work!

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