Getting in the Habit of Change

People often say that sustaining the gains of kaizen and Lean manufacturing is the hardest thing. How well you sustain kaizen is really about how well you adapt to change. Kaizen and Lean manufacturing are not “one time and done” types of things. When people say ‘we tried Lean and failed’ what they are really saying is that they stopped trying. They ran into a change that resulted in failure, and they did not adapt to this change. Failure is the other side of the success on the coin of continuous improvement.
In making change a habit, people can get caught up in what they call it. Names are important, but the trappings of large company Lean Six Sigma programs shouldn’t get in the way of doing practical problem solving everyday by everyone. Toyota is moving away from calling their system the Toyota Production System or even the Toyota Way towards the Thinking People System.
Some wise man said “What you say affects how you think, what you think affects how you behave, and how you behave affects your destiny” and this is just as true for how you talk about your kaizen and Lean manufacturing efforts. So go back to basics and keep it simple. Look for and cut out wastes, and remember flow. Go to the gemba.
When we visit world class firms succeeding at doing kaizen in Japan we rarely hear much more than this. We seem to have much shorter attention spans in West and always want to move on to the next fad or something better. As in ” What’s next after Lean?”
Sticking to something simple and making it a habit has huge impact. Human habits are hard to break. Habits can be good or bad. The problem with this is that habits can tend to make you dumb. Success as a habit can make you comfortable or complacent. The key to sustaining kaizen is to make change a habit.
If you’re always changing then as long as you know what “good” looks like you can always be improving. This means never being satisfied, thinking deeply about the problem, and taking many small, quick actions. This is essentially kaizen.