An environment where people have to think brings with it wisdom, and this wisdom brings with it Kaizen (continuous improvement).– Teruyuki Minoura, former President and CEO of Toyota Motor Manufacturing
Traditional continuous improvement projects are sometimes doomed due to several avoidable reasons. Improvement projects that stretch out over many weeks or months can lead to lack of management support and interest, budget overrun, drainage of resources, and losing momentum by the project team. Besides, the ever-increasing pace of change in the business environment necessitates acquiring a new way of thinking. It requires process leaders to think and respond to change rapidly. It obliges them to switch gears faster than their competitors and be more agile. Hence, Kaizen Blitz has become of paramount importance in the process improvement profession.
Kaizen is the Japanese word for “Continuous Improvement”. It consists of two parts: Kai for “Change” and Zen for “For the better”. Blitz is the German word for “Lighting”. Combining both words in one phrase (Kaizen Blitz) creates the concept of “lighting rapid improvement”. Kaizen Blitz is a focused and short, typically 5-day-long, project to review a process for better performance. Process review, performed by a cross-functional team, aims at identifying and eliminating waste; therefore, achieving noticeable and dramatic, rather than incremental, improvement.
With its short and focused approach, Kaizen Blitz overcomes obstacles encountered in long-term improvement projects. In its one-week-long project span, it uses as much as fractions of the resources, effort and cost of other longer projects. Moreover, since improvement results can come through in a short time, this approach is more likely to win top management support and commitment. It is the approach to reap the fruits of short, yet effective, endeavors that I refer to as Quick Wins when it comes to process improvement.
This Japanese approach helps organizations achieve a competitive edge through eliminating process wastes, and by unleashing the power of creative thinking of employees. The Kaizen team can initiate a quick-win project to target any of the eight types of waste; namely, Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Neglected Resources, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Extra-processing. Kaizen Blitz capitalizes on creative cooperation amongst team members. It applies the principle of team synergy through which it values differences, builds on strengths, and compensates for weaknesses to produce the best solution for the problem, or opportunity, under study.
In order for an organization to reap the desired benefits from deploying this rapid-improvement approach, the following success factors need to be considered:
- Clear and quantifiable improvement goals. (e.g. Reduce process cycle time by 60%)
- Sufficient management support for the team and for the project.
- Sufficient and accurate data to analyze the current state of the process and to identify root causes of the problem.
- Involvement of all personnel concerned with the process to get their buy-in for the proposed change.
- Proper training for the cross-functional team on Kaizen and Lean concepts.
- A clear Control Plan to sustain the new solution after implementation.
Failure to meet the aforementioned factors will result in an abortive project. In other words, the project outcome will fall short of the desired goals, the project team will be demoralized by their poor performance, the allocated resources will be wasted, and the competitive edge will probably be in jeopardy.
Each Kaizen Blitz constitutes a project by itself. It is a temporary endeavor undertaken to produce unique improvement results. The life cycle of a Kaizen Blitz project consists of three phases:
The Preparation Phase
This is a preliminary phase in which the project leader is assigned and the sponsor support is secured. In this phase, the project leader defines the scope of the problem or opportunity to be studied. Also, he defines clear objectives, selects and trains the project team, and sets the project constraints in terms of budget, schedule, risks, and success criteria.
The Blitz Phase
This is the phase where the Blitz event takes place in three to five days. The following five-day schedule shows an example of a Blitz phase:
On the first day, the project team members get introduced to each other and get trained on Lean concepts and Kaizen Blitz approach. The leader briefs the team on the process under study and on the project definitions and constraints.
On the second day, the project team members walk through the process and map the ‘As-Is’ state of it. The actual mapping of the current process allows the team to pinpoint potential improvement opportunities and to start the data collection task.
On the third day, team members complete data gathering after interviewing necessary stakeholders. They start analyzing collected data, and they work out potential solutions for the problem.
On this day, team members select a viable solution using a proper decision-making tool. Then, they start the implementation process.
Finally, team members prepare a summary of the project data, the proposed solution, implementation outcomes, and recommendations. A Control Plan is also outlined to sustain and to institutionalize the solution. After that, the team (leader) presents outcomes and recommendations to key stakeholders of the project.
The Control and Follow-up Phase
This phase is intended to close any open actions and to sustain the new solution. Team members close implementation actions that could not have been completed during the Blitz phase. They ensure the new process is documented and the old one is superseded. Besides, they train the process owners on the changes and hand over the solution to them.
Having said that, the project is not considered closed unless lessons learned have been documented and the financial impact of the change has been measured. Documenting lessons learned is an important step that must be done before project closure. It is a step in which the team stipulates and archives what went well and what went wrong for use in future similar projects. Besides, the project must show, in dollar terms, what benefits have been realized as a result of implementing the new solution. This step helps the team to formalize the change and to get top management buy-in for future improvement ideas.
Quick Wins exist everywhere in any organization; however, they need someone to look for and reap. Walk through the processes in your Accounting Department. You will probably find invoices being checked and reconciled manually. Why do not you map new processes in which people utilize automated tools that cut down on processing time and increase accuracy? Have a gemba walk in your warehouse, and study how inventory is controlled. Is it controlled on paper? Can you think of another inventory management tool that is more efficient and effective? Or observe ergonomics of your operations. Does the workplace fit the workers? Is the layout appropriate enough to spare them potential strains and injuries? Surprisingly, you will discover a bunch of improvement ideas just in a few-minute wander in your workplace!
The business environment is changing at ever-increasing pace, and costs are rocketing while customers are becoming more demanding; therefore, excellence in the workplace is no more optional. The journey towards excellence starts by promoting value-adding processes and eliminating wastes. Kaizen Blitz is an approach that allows you to excel by rethinking your current processes and eliminating non value-adding steps while leveraging the capabilities of your people. It allows you to survive with minimal costs, resources and time, and it opens up a can of Quick Wins for you!