ways to make Breakthrough KAIZEN™ a Success

Kaizen™, a combination of two Japanese words, means “Change for Good”, or in other words, Improvement or Development. According to Sensei Masaaki Imai, however, this meaning is incomplete. As obvious, any development or improvement has to be continuous. Kaizen™ is incomplete if the improvement initiatives do not involve everyone, does not happen every day and happens only in certain pockets. Kaizen™ must involve Everyone, must happen Every-day and Everywhere.

If we see the way Kaizen™ is written in Kanji script, Kai depicts two whip-slash marks on one’s back. This means, one has to whip himself/ herself as the Change has to come from within. Any change that comes from within gives a new life and a change from outside ends life (Illustration of Egg). The second word Zen, if written in Kanji script, looks like a sacrificial lamb. Change is difficult to bring in. One has to give up something or other – fear of failure, fear of sharing, fear of exposing, and the list goes on. To adapt change, one has to sacrifice or give up. Thus, Kaizen™ clearly indicates that we should be ready to sacrifice the comfort zone we enjoy at current state and whip ourselves to bring a change from within. 

To ensure a sustained improvement initiative, Kaizen Institute presents you the KCM – KAIZEN™ Change Management Model in which Daily Kaizen™, Support Kaizen™, Leaders’ Kaizen™ compliment to Breakthrough Kaizen™. So far, the focus was only breakthrough Kaizen™ due to which the focus on building a Kaizen™ culture was missing. Even Breakthrough Kaizen™ were not implemented in the way they were ought to be done.

We should realize that a Breakthrough Kaizen™ event has to be a structured one – one can term it Quality Circle or Small Group Activity or Gemba Kaizen™ Workshop. Such events bridge the gap between an individual and improvement initiatives across the value stream. Thus, Kaizen™ events play a dual role – not only making improvements but also coach & communicate. Let us throw light on what we need to do as to such Gemba Kaizen™ Workshops (Breakthrough Kaizen™) a grand success.

Commitment from the Senior team: Sensei Masaaki Imai says that the success of Kaizen™ events relies on 3 important factors. Number 1 is Top-Management commitment; 2 is Top-Management commitment; and 3 is Top-Management commitment. When we mean the top-management, it does not mean only the creamy layer of the hierarchy, but it begins with individual and goes on tier by tier – from Team Leader to Group Leader to Cell Leader to Manager etc, the message is clear, and one does not need to elaborate this further.

Freeze the KPIs: No journey starts without identifying the destination. Similarly, the journey of Excellence should also have its goals clearly specified before starting. KPIs or Key Performance Indicators are critical to success of all the initiatives. We will realize the value only if we measured it. Only when we measure, we will improve it.

What is measure is the key. KPIs are of two types. Result KPIs and Process KPIs. As we say in Kaizen™ , monitoring processes from time & again, ensures achieving results as expected. While we are defining the right metrics, we should also be careful in deciding the frequency of measuring those metrics. The cadence is pivotal. The measuring frequency should be equal to the time taken to respond and close the deviations observed during earlier measurement. This will reflect how effective our countermeasures are.

Cascading the KPIs: All our activities/ tasks in the CI initiatives should contribute in achieving the Organizational KPIs. Accordingly, the KPIs should be cascaded across all tiers. As we keep cascading we will reach a level where we will be left only with activities. These activities form the framework for Daily Kaizen™  and the Breakthrough Kaizen™  will evolve from the hurdles we face. The Kaizen™ events should be directly or indirectly linked to the business plans of the organization.

Time-Plan: Without a time-plan, solutions will never come through and the project would go directionless. We cannot work on a project for endless number of days as it would demotivate all those involved and the faith on improvement initiatives would fade away. Hence, a charter for every project is a must. A charter is used to establish the framework of an initiative. It clarifies what the problem statement is, the background information, time frame for the project, team members, hurdles faced in current scenario and what are all the metrics to be measured. A simple Scope sheet in a PDCA format will do.

Team Formation:  KAIZEN™ events are all about People Engagement. However, this means engaging the right people for the right project. If we made a mistake in choosing the team members, the success is not guaranteed. Competencies, Skill-Matrix, Attitude, Willingness to contribute, ability to learn & adapt – All matters. Also, we need to have a specialist team who can guide/ coach all the team members, who can gain and contribute. Let us not have the same team members representing in almost all Kaizen™-events. In general, a breakthrough Kaizen™  team should consist of 3 Gemba owners, 1 from the upstream, 1 from the downstream, 1 specialist, 1 sponsor.

Create Standards & keep improving: Without standardization, no continuous improvement initiative will get succeeded. Standards is the stopper-block that prevents our performance sliding back. Establish standards and review standards from time & again to improve it without which Kaizen™ Events will never be interesting nor will yield results.

Just Do It: If we waited for perfection and then implemented, we may never end up doing Kaizen. After all, excellence is defined as “Pursuit of Perfection”. There is no such thing called Perfection. It is elusive. We will strive to achieve perfection. When we are on a Kaizen-event, let us “Just-Do-It” without waiting for perfection. Perfection can be achieved with time.

Visualize - Transparent: KAIZEN™ is all about transparency. Visual Management ensures transparency is maintained all along the event. Transparency in sharing the progress of the journey, the performance of the team, the results, the processes encourages the non-members to be a part of such events. Sharing of such results enhances learning across the organization and paves way for horizontal deployment too

Preferably, Kaizen™-events should not be focusing on Long-range-plans. In the journey of excellence, we will be coming across many challenges of meeting the interim-targets. Those targets should define the Kaizen™-events. If the scope is too large to be tackled by the team members, then the results will de-motivate. Let us not do that mistake. I hope all of you would agree with these from the experience you all had in practicing Kaizen™ in all these days. All the best!

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