How to Sustain Kaizen? Follow Up with the Tenacity of the Terminator

By Jon Miller Published on January 2nd, 2008

Yesterday Mike Wroblewski asked How do we Sustain Kaizen Results? on his blog Got Boondoggle? This is a great topic and one that fits in with the theme of sustainability that is on the minds of lean thinkers like Toyota President Watanabe. How indeed? Mike gives us eight practical ways, so please read his blog and add your comments.
I’ll add three more points in answer to Mike’s question. These are really aspects of the point Mike made about following up and they are directed at managers or process owners who have sponsored to sanctioned that the kaizen will take place. Think of these three points as developing “the tenacity of the Terminator.”
The first is to promise “I’ll be back” to check on the results of kaizen sustaining activities after a specific time period, such as “in three weeks.” It’s best to make promises you can keep, so if you are a manager or lean leader who trots the globe and is not likely to return to that gemba for months, make a different promise. There is no substitute for genchi genbutsu so I would advise that a local manager make the Terminator commitment and the lean leader or global manager follow up and coach the local manager on the next two points for following up on kaizen.
The second point on follow up is to actually come back to check on or about that promised date. If the promised date was “in three weeks”, give or take a couple of days as your schedule demands. But don’t let it slip into the fourth week. Did the Terminator come back? He sure did, and he was single-minded in his purpose. If you are not going to absolutely live up to your commitment, don’t bother leading or sponsoring too many more kaizen events. They will not sustain.
The third point is to give constructive feedback when you come to check, based on several days or weeks of reflection. If you thought that you were doing nothing to follow up during three weeks in the above example relative to this kaizen event, think again. In order to give constructive feedback you need to first note where the kaizen team faces potential challenges for backsliding, or where there are remaining issues to be resolved by the kaizen team, and think about how you would solve the problem. This is Taiichi Ohno’s “game of wits.”
As you give constructive feedback make sure to start with a few points of praise on what the team has accomplished. Look beyond the quantitative kaizen results achieved in the areas of safety, quality, delivery or cost. Find one or two qualitative things to praise such as how the team has grown in their skills, attitude or understanding of the problem. Often the team members themselves cannot see these changes, but these are more personally valuable to them. Give at least one point of advice. If they are backsliding or struggling in certain areas, give your own ideas but don’t dictate solutions unless they are desperate. Leave them with a challenge if you can, and if they accept the challenge, promise to come back to check again at a certain time.
These points might seem obvious, or even boring, but Toyota puts us all to shame by executing these obvious and mundane acts of management thoroughly day after day, year after year. Like all of us, they had to start sometime. If you don’t yet have the tenacity of the Terminator when it comes to kaizen follow up, now is not a bad time to start practicing.

  1. Alberto

    January 3, 2008 - 7:46 am

    Sustaining Kaizens is always a really difficicult issue (depending on how well deployed the kaizen was in the first place), and auditing was one of the answers for the enterprise i work for, and it seems to be working out quite well.
    On the weekly Kaizen tours not only do we check new kaizens but we give follow-up and feedback to Shingijutsu (Kaizen Blitz)events projects.

  2. Rob

    January 5, 2008 - 1:37 am

    Surely you “just” need to apply PDCA to any Kaizen event. Simple and effective!!

  3. Alexander Zubov

    February 9, 2008 - 4:11 am

    I think there is forth important point. Tell them: “Feel free to contact me if you need help.” Too often in traditional manufacturing people in gemba have much trouble in getting external resources needed. This stops them from doing and sustaining kaizen. Give them such a chance.

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