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A Walkthrough in the Four Steps of Kaizen

by Kara McPipe

Artistic Finishes, Inc.

Imagine that you are a manager of a manufacturing plant. The production reports are studied every day, and it is discovered that one of the lines continually is getting worse. You walk out to the line and ask the operator why the numbers are dropping. The operator immediately states, "The machine is old and doesnít work the way it used to." Is your first thought, "We need to buy a new piece of equipment to replace this outdated thing?"

New equipment or technology often is our first choice. Kaizen often is a better choice, because even with new equipment, if the process has waste in it, will the new equipment help? The Japanese word Kaizen means "change for the better." Kaizen focuses on looking at a process and removing waste from it.

Letís look at the example above again. If a few minutes would have been taken to observe the process, there might have been observations like the operator leaving his machine to collect job materials, making the same adjustment multiple times or searching for a missing tool. All of these observations are forms of waste and prevent the machine from running. If you take a few minutes to look around your own plant, you will notice the same type of waste everywhere. Problems get in our way every day, and they decrease our efficiency. Remove these problems (waste) and think of the positive impact it will have to the equipment efficiency.

Every plant strives for perfection out of every piece of equipment it owns, but often forgets to look at the simple things which can cause the machine not to run. This is where a Kaizen event can help. A Kaizen event has four key phases: Selecting, Planning, Implementing and Follow Up. Kaizen events will cause minimal disruption to your current daily production output when planned well, but they can yield a significant increase in efficiency once completed.

Selecting a Kaizen event

There are several areas where a company can look for Kaizen opportunities. One of the easiest ways to identify a Kaizen event is by creating a Value Stream Map for the production workflow. This tool can help to identify bottlenecks or slowdowns in the overall process so you can see what areas should be improved first. The book Learning to See by Mike Rother and John Shook can help anyone effectively create a Value Stream Map for his or her organization. A corrective action system or any other error-tracking system also can be used to determine where opportunities are for improvement. Utilize an idea system to pinpoint ideas that are larger in scope and may warrant putting a team together to solve the issue. Ultimately, it is important to listen to the data and the operators on where the biggest issues are within the organization.

Planning a Kaizen event

A scope and goals document clearly laying out the problem, scope of the event, goals the team should focus on, team members and schedule must be created. To start, take the time to research and understand the issues. Often, we want to jump to improvements because we think that we already know the solution, but just like the example above, this potentially could lead us down a path that may be costly for the company and, potentially, a waste of time. Conduct interviews with leaders and subject matter experts in the affected area. Collect data where appropriate. Once you have gained a better understanding of the problems, write an issues statement to help the team look for them and address them in the discovery and improvement phases.

Next, create a scope that is specific and attainable within the given Kaizen event time frame. A well-written scope helps to keep the team on track throughout the event and can prevent team members from looking at areas outside of the defined scope. Consider goals the team must tackle and base these on a realistic time frame (typically two to three months). Well-defined goals can assist the team members in staying focused if they are struggling.

When developing the team, it is key to gather subject matter experts from upstream and downstream functions, along with people with fresh eyes (those who know nothing about the process). Six to eight people are ideal in larger companies, while in smaller companies, four to five people on the team is typical. In most situations, using the area leader as a sponsor of the event instead of a member allows the team to not feel confined to what the leader wants. A poorly defined team may make it difficult to reach the Kaizen goals.

Finally, schedule the event based on the size of the scope and the resources needed. Kaizen events can run anywhere from three to five days. In smaller companies, it may work better to break the scope into smaller chunks and allot three- to four-hour increments to complete the Kaizen event. Proper planning is the key to a successful Kaizen event, so donít rush past this step.

Implementing a Kaizen event

Implementation of a Kaizen event starts with a facilitator. The facilitator has key responsibilities, including training the team on Lean tools, keeping the team on track and helping the team to visualize what the future could be.

The most critical responsibility of the facilitator is getting the team to see the current process. Returning to the example at the beginning of the article, we instinctively want to go to the improvement phase, but if the team doesnít take the time to understand the current process, real improvements could be missed. It is the job of the facilitator to help the team to see the waste, so the team can come up with ways to reduce it. Taking videos, using a spaghetti diagram and gathering forms used in the process are a few ways to help the team to "see" the waste. Once the waste has been identified, the team will spend the remaining time of the event brainstorming improvement ideas and beginning to get them implemented.

Follow up on a Kaizen event

In almost every case, there is not enough time during the event to implement all improvements, so following up after the event becomes the next critical step. Follow up often is the most difficult part, so staying organized and maintaining a consistent leadership message is imperative.

Use a Kaizen newspaper to keep track of the improvements identified during the Kaizen event and the status of completion of each item. The Kaizen sponsor (area leader) should own and drive the Kaizen newspaper. Communicate the Kaizen results to leadership and the company using storyboards to show what the team has accomplished. As the Kaizen event is being implemented, continue to measure the Kaizen goals against the results. Keep the metrics visible for everyone to see and readdress when results are not sustained.

As you begin your first Kaizen event, remember to take the time to properly scope the event; understand the process; measure (you cannot improve what you cannot measure); get employees excited and involved before, during and after the Kaizen; and, most importantly, ensure there is management support and Kaizen follow-up. Over time, each Kaizen will become easier. Before you know it, efficiencies in your plant will happen that you did not expect with the current equipment.

This article was reprinted with permission from PIAís The Magazine. The author, Kara McPipe, is the continuous improvement manager for Artistic Finishes, Inc. Founded in 1985, Artistic Finishes specializes in finishing hardwood moldings, vents and treads that complement over 13,000 manufacturersí hardwood and laminate flooring lines.