Competing March 2006

The Stages of Lean and the Art of Kaizen

The Stages of Lean (according to Dwight)

  1. Beginner – implemented one Value Stream Map “future state” and are experiencing the “honeymoon effect” Improvement is daily, and progress is fast.
  2. Stalling – dealing with the post-honeymoon condition. Lean isn’t as much fun and is no longer new. It still makes sense, but it’s getting a little stale. You get what you measure. What are you measuring?
  3. Stalled – Lean is part of how we do business, but aren’t we Lean now? “Why do we have to continuously improve? We are better than our competition.” What has been standardized? What are you measuring?
  4. Re-emergence – perhaps stimulated by some competitive failure, followed by deep soul searching, commitment and delivery of a carefully audited plan. Not making it to this step defines failure. All companies will stall sometime, some worse than others, it’s how they emerge that will make the difference. Courage, commitment and integrity are the keys. Oh yeah, don’t forget to measure.
  5. Sustainability – the entrance to the “promised land” is in sight. We constantly audit our standardization, measure and post key results. Continuous improvement is a natural component of our workday and an expectation of all employees. By the way, don’t expect to ever get to the “promised land” but never quit trying.

I suspect if Taiichi Ohno or Shigeo Shingo were alive and paid me the honor of reading this, they might say……….ART!!!??? That being said, I believe the effective use of Kaizen is both art (emotions, opinions, creative, situational, political) and science (balance, flow, rules, standardization, measurable etc). I offer Kaizen as a blend of art and science, with a large helping of common sense on the side.

So what is Kaizen? The Kaizen Institute, ,refers to Kaizen as an effective process when it “accomplishes sustainable implementation through the development of the internal structure for deployment and developing strategies that enable the workforce (at all levels) to maintain Continuous Improvement initiatives.”
Bruce Hamilton, President of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (and the star of “Toast Kaizen”, refers to kaizen as “small and continuous improvements”. Kaizen uses direct observation and collective thinking to identify and eliminate waste “Muda”, unevenness interrupting flow “Mura” and strenuous conditions of workers, machines and work in process “Muri”.

How do you select areas to Kaizen?

    When you are just beginning you Lean journey, I have found Value Stream Mapping to be the best place to start. This will clarify opportunity and avoid possible “Kaizen drive-bys” which waste both resources and system credibility.

      Stalling and Stalled
      So you have done several Value Stream Maps, and have implemented toward your Future conditions. How can you effectively use Kaizen? Find the weakest point in your value stream (perhaps administrative) and “Kaizen” out the waste.

      How do you select Kaizen teams? Well, tell me about your lean training… has everyone been trained? What do you mean by “trained”? If all the problems are being defined by leadership who then go out recruiting Kaizen team members, either you have not trained effectively or no one believes you will support him or her when the going gets tough. This is not sustainable.

        You have identified and eliminated your cultural and training weaknesses allowing the continuous improvement to gather momentum….. Congratulations!

          Our objective, when there you are fiercely competitive and getting stronger, people love to work there and we make things simple, have fun and make money. Not bad eh?

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