Hunting High and Low for Quick Wins Using Kaizen Blitz

Traditional continuous improvement projects are sometimes doomed due to several avoidable reasons. Besides, the ever-increasing pace of change in the business environment necessitates acquiring a new way of thinking. Hence, Kaizen Blitz has become of paramount importance in the process improvement profession.

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:

Day One

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.

Day Two

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.

Day Three

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.

Day Four

On this day, team members select a viable solution using a proper decision-making tool. Then, they start the implementation process.

Day Five

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!

The State of Being Lean or Fat is a Matter of Your Own Choice

Lean is a culture and way of life rather than being a methodology. And the recipe for a successful transformation hinges on root cause analysis, sustainability, and continuous improvement. At the end, being lean or fat for an organization is an outcome of its own internal practices.

Being lean or fat for an organization is an outcome of its own internal practices. Likewise, the transformation process from one state to the other can be achieved at its own discretion. However, not all fat-lean transformations are healthy. Amongst the three fat-lean transition forms that organizations usually undergo only the fat-to-lean one is the savior leading to survival in turbulent times.

Most organizations which fail transitioning from fat to lean blame on the improvement methodologies they have adopted. Yet, in most cases the fact is not. During my two decades of experience in the manufacturing and service industries I have seen fat businesses embracing lean concepts but would not have trimmed a ‘kilogram’ from their bodies. I.e. they remained fat. And this is the first type of transformation; fat-to-fat.

Fat-to-fat type of organizations usually fail due to ineffectiveness in implementation. For the process of lean transformation to be effective root causes of waste should be eliminated, not the waste itself. For instance, converting defected product to second grade does not trim waste since the root cause remains haunting the manufacturing process, and the waste (defect) will recur. In another scene, clearing the production area from overproduction and stacking it in the warehouse will not do good for your shape as you convert overproduction into inventory, which is another type of waste. Hence, root causes of defects, overproduction, inventory, and other types of waste should be your target in the lean transformation journey.

Lean-to-fat transition is no better than fat-to-fat. It is even worse a case of transition but for a different reason of failure, which is lack of control. People on a weight loss plan must sustain their lean shape when they reach their optimum weight by committing to specific diet and exercises. Otherwise, they will revert to their old state. Similarly, a lean organization ought to deploy rigorous control procedures and standards so that people do not revert to the previous fatty operating model.

The third type of fat-lean transformation, fat-to-lean, is on the other end of the spectrum, and is the ideal transition that secures effectiveness as well as sustainability. Institutionalizing and sustaining a robust transformation process is key to achieving and sustaining a lean state.

This Waste Elimination process embraces the universal concept of process improvement depicted in many other methodologies such as PDCA, DMAIC, and 8-Disciplines. It starts by studying the process under transformation. Then, wastes need to be recognized and measured to form the current state and to have a baseline of improvement. After that, root causes of the wastes need to be identified and eliminated. The last step, which is the most crucial, is sustaining the outcome state of the process through updated procedures, control plans, and standardization.

Waste Elimination Process

Lean is a culture and way of life rather than being a methodology. And the recipe for a successful transformation hinges on root cause analysis, sustainability, and continuous improvement. While it is not a rocket science, the waste elimination process can help you kick start your journey towards a leaner state. Besides, my coming post on the Eight Types of Waste will make your life even easier in recognizing loads of fat in your organization.

Interrelationship Digraph: PART TWO

In this part of “Interrelationship Digraph: Demystifying Complex Relationships” video I explain how we can use the Interrelationship Matrix to reflect results of the Interrelationship Digraph. I also show how we can construct this matrix using Microsoft Office Excel through Conditional Formatting and the COUNTIF function.

Interrelationship Digraph: PART ONE

Interrelationship Digraph or Relations Diagram is one of the seven Management and Planning Tools that helps us analyze the cause-and-effect relationships among different issues in a complex situation. It also helps us focus on vital few issues with highest priorities which makes this tool echo Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule in concept.

In this part of “Interrelationship Digraph: Demystifying Complex Relationships” video I explain the tool, its uses, and how to construct it using Microsoft Office Visio.

Organizational Culture: a Six Sigma success driver

Joyce Wycoff in his book “Transformation Thinking” says:

‘When an organization commits to creating an environment which stimulates the growth of everyone in the organization, amazing things start to happen: ideas pop up everywhere, people start to work together instead of “playing politics”; new opportunities appear; customers begin to notice service and attitude improvements; collections of individuals begin to coalesce into teams’.

It is a prevalent practice in organizations that start Six Sigma initiatives to employ specialist Black Belts (BB) and Green Belts (GB) to manage the improvement process of the organization’s operations. While it is a good practice to adopt, it is not the most efficient and effective. Outside BB and GB individuals are expensive and will yield shorter-term benefits than if Six Sigma culture is instilled in the workforce itself responsible for the process under improvement.

The optimum approach to nurture Six Sigma in an organization is to consider all employees as potential Green Belts then select few to receive advanced training and become Black Belts. Most of employees are capable to be Green Belts. The goal should be to train them in three main areas: problem-solving techniques, continuous improvement models, and interpersonal and team building skills. Black Belts then can be selected and trained on further advanced statistical tools and techniques with more emphasis on team building, conflict resolution, coaching and mentoring skills so that they can guide the rest of employees to achieve their optimum performance.

Motorola proved this concept when it discovered that most of cost savings, process improvement, and higher customer satisfaction came from the direct labor working on the process. Those people are the best to know the process and its areas to improve. They know what impedes achieving excellence, and only by training them on problem-solving and improvement techniques they excel in achieving breakthrough yields and highly capable processes.

Employee involvement is essential in any successful Six Sigma project. Sense of responsibility and accountability by an employee is magnified when he/she is involved in defining the problem, measuring the process, analyzing root causes, and contributing to the selection of best solution to implement. By this the organization will get the one-million-dollar worth jewel of ‘employee Buy-In’.

As Alan Larson mentions in his book ‘Demystifying Six Sigma’, “something magical happens when employees become more experienced and effective with Six Sigma tools and the results come rolling in…you can feel human energy, like static electricity, in the air”.

By infusing six sigma skills throughout the entire organization you will develop a continuous improvement culture in which all employees are involved towards achieving customer satisfaction within the frame of collaborative focus led by the organization executives; this is the concept behind Total Quality Management (TQM). So, if you are thinking to improve your organizational performance, and I am sure everybody is, start by thinking out your strategy to instill the culture of continuous improvement among employees by training and by allowing those savior specialists to emerge from your company instead of paying thousands to acquire external professionals who are ‘foreigners’ to your processes and to your workforce which in turn may reduce the likelihood of your projects’ success. At the end of the day you are optimizing performance on employee as well as process levels and you increase the morale amongst your people.

NB Idea of this blog was inspired by Alan Larson book “Demystifying Six Sigma, A Company-Wide Approach to Continuous Improvement”