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Article: Kaizen Event - Part 1 of 5
Part 1  Part 2    Part 3   Part 4   Par 5

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"Kaizen" translated means "good change." Many com≠panies use kaizen as a tool to promote rapid, team-based positive change. It is a plant manager's dream come true. As past plant manager, I can tell you firsthand. I walked through my operation daily. In doing so I tried to re≠main open to those things that could increase our ef≠fectiveness as an organization. Often I would see an operation or process that I knew could be improved.

The recognition of improvement opportunities is the easy part. Follow-through is the difficult part. Regard≠less of our personal titles and the roles we play in manu≠facturing, we all generally have a full plate. Let's assume for a minute that you have identified an area in your operation that is ripe for improvement. Now let's pre≠tend that you have been able to retain your thoughts long enough to make it back to the office to write down your thoughts.

Where do we begin to improve that area of the op≠eration? Perhaps we call in the engineering manager and explain our observations to her. We instruct her to col≠lect some critical data. These might include actual run times, travel distances, current throughput, current lead times, space, or square footage currently consumed by this process. We further request additional data such as current levels of WIP and standard hours of queue. Be≠fore we go any further, we are gently reminded that this data could be better provided by production control. By the way, you may also want to get planning and mar≠keting involved to supply information pertaining to customer demand, she says in a helpful way.

We agree that other departments are required to get this thing started. Next I put out a memo to all depart≠ment heads. "We will meet in the conference room next Thursday to discuss plans to improve the process in machining cell X." We have our first meeting, which, as usual, takes several hours of dialogue. At the conclu≠sion of this meeting, every department head has the objective of going back to their departments and review≠ing current projects and assignments. We will meet again next Thursday so that each department can report on their availability to support this undertaking.

Are you beginning to get the idea? This is the way we have always done things. By the time all the meetings have taken placeóby the time all the schedules have been arrangedóby the time all the data has been collectedó by the time arrangements have been made with outside concerns (electricians, plumbers, machine technicians, etc.)ówe are now ready to start taking action. I forgot to mention that several weeks ago we took one of our best support people off their job to become temporary project manager. After four to six months, we have prob≠ably completed the work.

Now we start up production. It goes without saying that the operators in the machining cell were never asked for their input. Not only do they have some wonderful ideas that we never thought of, but we find there is no feeling of ownership or buy-in from them. So we back≠pedal and implement some of their ideas. We can't implement all of them because it would require a com≠plete redo of the entire project. We have improved the process, but not to the level we could have. The opera≠tors never do embrace the change as their own.

What I have described to you is the best case. All too often our plans for improvement never get implemented at all. The daily battle and fire fighting often get in the way. We tend to dread the thought of establishing an≠other committee. We don't look forward to another six months of extra meetings and project management. So while good intentioned, it's business as usual.

What if I told you that most opportunities for im≠provement could be accomplished in one four-day cycle? Bigger projects, maybe two or three four-day events. The truth is, improvement never ends. Therefore, a cell or department may have a kaizen event every six months, constantly improving the process. Before too long the environment has been transformed into one of constant change and improvement. The employees not only buy in to the change, they lead it.

Part 1  Part 2    Part 3   Part 4   Par 5

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