Your organization has decided to start its transformation to become Lean. The Lean methodology and tools have been selected. Your Lean facilitator (either your Lean Manager or a Lean Consultant) has set the date and time for the event. The only real question is, How do we ensure this kaizen event gets measurable results?
Lets first understand what a kaizen event actually is. It is a team activity aimed at continuous improvement of an entire value stream or an individual process to create more value and reduce/eliminate waste. Now having said all that how do we do it?
There are several things to consider before the event takes place. The first is to have qualified production/distribution coverage and advanced production. Production output will decline during an event as operators direct their time to event activities and changes to floor layout. Planning for this reduction will ensure that overall productivity does not suffer while improvements become the standard.
Secondly, the employees chosen for the event will have a major impact on the improvements and sustaining the results. The team should be comprised of a broad cross-section of the company. Typically, you want at least one expert who performs the task under study. The remaining members will be made up from other areas of the process, as well as employees from the office. They will provide a fresh perspective, so the main thing is to get them INVOLVED! The team needs to take ownership of the event and the following implementation action items.
If you have never gone through a kaizen event before, you may want to use an outside professional to lead you. Once you are into the thick of making dramatic improvements, you will be glad for the expertise of someone who has been there. A consultants primary purpose is to be able to help you become skilled in running future events so that you can begin training others to lead events also. The role of upper management will be to support the Lean initiatives and to let the employees know that successful kaizen events and implementing Lean processes will not eliminate anyones job. This increase in productivity means increased capacity, which, in turn, will create the need for these employees.
You must communicate to the whole company about the kaizen event. An announcement from upper management will convey the serious support given to the event. Post information about the daily schedules and the agenda. Since there are going to be significant changes, it is best to lay the communication groundwork well in advance. This will provide for questions to be answered and for employees to understand the reason for the change.
The next thing to consider is what area of study you wish to improve. Typically, choose an area that will have an impact but not pose too many difficult problems in the beginning. It is all about building momentum. Each event will teach you things that will make the next event go more smoothly and easier to successfully run. You can choose several areas and decide the merits of each. Examples of prime areas are ones that experience excessive WIP, have significant bottlenecks or frequent stoppages, or produce large cycle times and have medium to high volume.
Then, you will want to investigate the problem itself. One of the first things that should be considered in any area or process is the completion of 5S+1 tool. This sets the table for improvement as it is the baseline for Lean improvement. If you complete the 5S+1 process first, you will not have to include it in every implementation plan in all the events. The focus is on eliminating waste and is the function of every kaizen event. So the decision must be made on its impact to eliminate waste in the area and/or process.
Once you have determined the area or process to be examined, you then need to obtain the necessary background information. This may include the event objectives and expectations. Use a background/problem statement to explain the reason this will be the area of study. Get current metrics for the area, in terms of productivity, quality, customer order volume (daily, weekly, monthly), flowchart of the area to be improved and safety records for the area. Time can be wasted searching for data in order to make decisions on takt time, process requirements and developing the current state.
Next, prepare the area and the training room where the Lean methodology will be taught. Make sure during the times of classroom training that the room is well-ventilated and well-lit and that all the training materials and supplies are in place. Provide pens, paper, flip charts, calculators and other relevant supplies. If audio/video projectors are used, make sure there is a spare bulb and fresh batteries. If the project runs through lunch and/or dinner, make sure that this is provided. Keep refreshments on hand as well, so the team is comfortable and focused on the event. In addition, maintenance personnel should also be notified and included in the event, as they will probably be summoned to aid the improvement strategies. Stick to the agenda for the hours and days of the event. Depending on the scale and scope, most kaizen events last approximately five days. Staying on course will keep the project productive and motivating.
Every kaizen event is different, and as you go through the process more, you will have greater returns. The preparation of the event can not be undervalued. If you follow the steps, your kaizen events will yield significant reduction in waste and non-value added activities.
Richard Kay is President of RGK Lean Consulting and has over 16 years of experience in manufacturing and distribution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.