Notes From a Kaizen Event

I was cleaning out some old stuff and came across a folded piece of paper with notes on it. They were from my parting comments to a kaizen event team that had put in a great week with spectacular results. They had started out wanting to improve the delivery of WIP to and from the warehouse.

When we went to the shop floor to see the current situation, what I saw was much more opportunity. It took a little work, especially with the area manager, but by the end of the week they had gone from needing 5 work cells with 6 people each – plus more to meet the holiday seasonal production – to 4 production cells with 5 people each, that could comfortably meet the rush. Not bad for a week’s work.

That’s the background.

When I look at old notes like this, I am always comparing what I knew then with what I know now. Now and than I turn up something that gives a hint that I knew what I was doing.

These comments were as much for the rest of the audience as they were for the team members themselves. After all, they knew what they did, and were fully aware of what they had to do next. But the other teams, and their collective bosses, needed to hear it as well.

  • Wow – great team. You caught flow fever early in the week and ran with it. You make me look like I knew what I was doing – thank you.
  • You connected the operations into a smooth flow.
  • Now you can begin the process of kaizen. Stick with it, stay on the shop floor, and work to stabilize the work. Many problems will come up. Help the work teams learn how to see them and solve them.
  • If you can save, and stabilize, a quarter of a second every day, in three months you can get another 20% of productivity. Think about that – and do the math for yourself.

What made this work?

First and foremost, we had the operational manager there, fully participating. He was skeptical at first, but once I sat down with him and went through his production requirements, step by step, he began to see things in terms of takt times and production leveling rather than just quantities to push out the door. That was a big shift.

The other big thing was havingĀ  the team work off line for a few hours to construct a mock-up of a “typical” work cell. Then, without worrying a bit about the takt time, work to minimize the cycle time of one person going through the complete cycle. They learned for themselves that to save time you must study motion. We went through three or four cycles of granularity – every time they thought they had “the” solution, we introduced another tool to see the next level of extra motion. Through this exercise, they gained confidence that it was entirely possible to make a dramatic improvement in the “optimal layout” that they already had.

After that, it was a matter of getting to work. They watched the actual operators, and now could see the excess motions that were being driven by the way the work was arranged. They started making little adjustments – always being respectful of the workers. “We’d like to try something different here, just to see if it works better for you. May we just try something?”

That “May we try this?” attitude introduced something into the dynamic that doesn’t show up often enough – humility. Rather than these managers saying “We’ve got a better way, do it like this.” they were saying “We really don’t know if this will work or not,” and asking not only permission to try, but for input on whether it worked, or how it could work if it wasn’t quite there.

A lot of changes got implemented, but there was no arguing or friction because everything was just an experiment to see if it would work or not.

In the end, I saw something I had never seen before – the manager put in a budget request for a reduction, because he knew he couldĀ  get it done with less, or at least figuring out how was within his reach.

That scrap of paper reminded me of a pretty good week.

One thought on “Notes From a Kaizen Event

  1. That’s great that you have this information to look back on. Keeping track of where you have been or what the condition was is an important part of Lean. But it’s the most difficult part for me.

    I see something that needs changing. I want to change it and move on. The company owners need to see the way it was, the way it is now and how much money are we saving. To me saving and displaying the metrics is the difficult part of Lean. I’d better save those scraps of paper.

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