Following the Kaizen Process Out of the Lion’s Den

By Jon Miller Published on April 24th, 2006

I’ll be blogging on the theme of Lean manufacturing, Industrial Engineering and Human Resources Development this week. This is a topic that’s been on my mind for quite a while and it’s time some of it was written down.
Industrial Engineering (IE) and Human Resources Development (HRD) are two key aspects of Lean enterprise transformation and sustained kaizen over the long haul. I’ve noticed that sometimes these two can be at odds in terms of the practical approach companies take to implement Lean manufacturing.
Just today I had a discussion with one of our long-term clients about next steps in our Lean manufacturing consulting relationship. To make a long story short, Phase 1 of our relationship was almost pure IE work, involving lead-time and cycle time reduction through value stream mapping, time observation, etc. Phase 2 was almost pure HRD work focusing on training for all staff and kaizen events in all departments, Standard Work documentation and training (a blend of IE and HRD) with kaizen newspaper facilitation by supervisors. Phase 1 yielded more short-term results than Phase 2.
For the proposed Phase 3 they would like to go back to the IE focus. In fact what is needed is the application of Lean principles to how they measure, manage and plan their production. They could also benefit from busting out some walls that inhibit flow in the factory, and this is in fact a training issue at the executive level. It can be either Industrial Engineering or Human Resources Development over the short term, but two years into their Lean enterprise transformation, this client needs a deliberate blend of the two.
Eric Sander from Gemba gave a contribution to the Tips of the Trade section of our monthly newsletter this month in which he essentially said that when you are doing kaizen, if you follow the process and teach people how to see the wastes and how to remove them, you will succeed. In other words, as a consultant you do not need to have all of the answers or know the exact outcome of the project ahead of time.
Eric was a senior manufacturing manager at Hill-Rom and happens to have a degree in teaching. In the past year Eric has been involved projects as diverse as 3P for automotive stamping line design, Lean training at a construction company framing and building high-end homes, Lean transformatoin at a fiberglass bath tub manufacturer, and 5S at a manufacturer of residential cabinets. None of these industries are in Eric’s main area of technical experience and expertise. Eric has succeeded not by superimposing his 30 years of manufacturing management experience on our clients, but by following the kaizen process.
At the other end of things, not too long ago I was working with Joe Jud on a Lean office project at one of our clients. Joe is one of our consultants. He has an Industrial Engineering background. This project placed Joe in a facilitation, training and conflict resolution role. There was no opportunity for Joe to pull out the stop watch. He was outside of his comfort zone at times but he did a great job.
As consultants, the longer we work with clients the more frequently we are asked to do something new, to apply Lean principles in a new area of their business. This may require a management coach and teacher (HRD) to be placed in process analysis and flow creation (IE) role requiring more of the skills classified as Industrial Engineering, or vice versa.
Brad Schmidt of Gemba likes to call this “throwing them to the lions”. It’s a Biblical reference to Daniel who was thrown in the lion’s den by the Romans but his faith kept him from being eaten by the lions. In a similar way, we need to have faith in the kaizen process which inherently combines both the IE tools and the HRD approach.
This is quite an effective way of pulling out of our consultants what they are truly capable of doing at the gemba. Instead of just reciting what they have learned over the years from their teachers or pointing at the projected images of Power Point slides on the wall, they must switch between the two styles, disciplines and approaches of IE and HRD.
As leaders working in a developing Lean enterprise, the executives, managers, supervisors and team leaders need to be not only problem solvers (IE) but also teachers (HRD). I will write more on this in the coming days.

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