What Have You Learned?

“What have you learned?” It is a question I hear often at the end of kaizen events and other improvement activity. The key points of a typical report-out, though, seem to be on how much was accomplished, and what was learned comes as an afterthought.

A typical week-long kaizen event is organized like this:

Monday: There may be some classroom type training followed by studying the process. This study is often collecting cycle times and building spaghetti charts.

Tuesday: The team develops their vision or target state – they decide what they are going to do.

Wednesday / Thursday: Make some pretty dramatic changes to the process.

Friday: Report the results followed by pizza for everybody.

The pre-planning often includes some targets for cycle time or inventory, and sometimes even qualifies as a “target condition” that is focused on larger level objectives. But equally often, it doesn’t. The target results are vague or simply “Look at this process and improve it.”

Here is a question – how many coaching cycles – instances where a situation was understood, a target was established, an attempt was made to hit the target, and learning was assessed – actually happen in the course of this week?

In the worst case, zero. Those are the instances where the Friday report-out is followed on Monday by leaving work team to bask in their newly improved process. There is no attempt at all to see what they are struggling with, or if there is, it is an “audit” with the idea of “ensuring compliance” with the new process. No learning at all takes place in this situation. There is only blame shifting.

Nearly as bad is when the answer is “one.” That is, there is some attempt prior to Friday to see if the target condition is achieved, and to understand what new issues have emerged. The problem here is that it is usually too late to do anything. The improvement experts are moving on to planning another event, and whatever is left behind is usually an action item list of incompletes from the week.

That doesn’t work very well either.

Neither does trying to capture “learnings” on a flip chart at the end of the event. That is a nice feel-good exercise, but rarely translates into improving the process of process improvement

So if the above is a “current condition” then what is the target?

How can improvement itself be organized so that we learn how to do it better?

One thing would be to structure kaizen events to cycle through the coaching process many more times during the week. Take the five day agenda, and carry it through EVERY day. That is a start. How would your kaizen events be different if you did five one-day events in a row rather than one five day event? Isn’t that close to one-piece-flow?

What would be the next  step after that?

4 thoughts to “What Have You Learned?”

  1. Kris: Great video. It really shows how important trying out ideas is to the lean improvement process.

    Mark: Great post. I’m expanding your thoughts and using the training concept during our next kaizen event. During our next event I want to create a recipe for future events. I want to make sure we learn the process of how to make improvements.

    The event will end up being more of a learning event than a specific improvement event. It will be longer than a one week Kaizen event.

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