By Jon Miller | Post Date: February 19, 2005 11:54 AM | Comments: 10
One of the most frequent questions we encounter form our customers and prospects is the issue of how to sustain the gains made through kaizen and other continuous improvement efforts. In a recent discussion among our consultants, we came to the agreement that the three traditional answers were inadequate and did not really get to the root of the problem.
First, management attention and commitment are essential. With the pressures to produce competing with the need to take the time to make sure improvements are being sustained, supervisors and managers often opt to make their numbers first. This is a case of 'you improve what you measure'. You must measure the sustaining of kaizen results.
Second, workforce involvement is a must. Human beings resist change when it is done to them or imposed upon them. Human beings embrace change when they are involved in making the change and it is meaningful to them. Simply, you value what you create. Kaizen events must be designed and managed for this.
Third, there must be a clearly defined answer to "what's in it for me?" for all of the stakeholders in the process where kaizen is done. The whole point of kaizen is to reduce Muda (waste) in a profitable way, making the job safer and easier. Quantifying and communicating these benefits is key element to helping people see the need for sustaining the gains.
Yet even when all of this is in place, kaizen will not always sustain. There may be a variety of reasons for this but in our experience one stands out most. Too often improvements are being made in environments where there are no clear standards. The process method may vary, depending on the person. The settings for a machine may vary between work teams and between shifts.
We have encountered organizations which are afraid to establish clear standards for fear that it will limit creativity among their best employees. This is particularly prevalent in engineering organizations, sales teams, and highly skilled machine operators. What these managers are really saying is that "My processes are out of control. I must rely on the in-depth knowledge and skill of very smart people to make it work."
This creativity needs to be used to set and improve standards, not to meet them. It is a misuse of skill and creativity to solve problems that are preventable through the establishment of standards. Once the variables are scientifically understood through a kaizen team effort or a six sigma process, this creates a basis for breakthrough improvements by these creative and skilled people.
Taiichi Ohno said "Where there is no standard there can be no kaizen." Part of every kaizen activity must be the establishment of the new standard or "the best known method at this point". The standard is not fixed forever, and becomes the basis for future improvement.
For repetitive processes this takes the form of Standard Work (aka Standardized Work) defining Takt Time, Work Sequence, and Standard Work in Process. For less repetitive work it may be a clearly defined process with visual work instructions and Pokayoke (error proofing) to ensure built in quality.
The insistence on standards is the fourth element for sustaining kaizen. Like the other three elements, it is a deeply human issue and often requires a cultural shift in the organization. In the end, successful and sustained kaizen is more about changing behaviors than changing physical things.Comments are moderated to filter spam and inappropriate content. There may be a delay before your comment is published.