Kaizen Teian First. Kaizen Event Last.

It may have been Ohno that espoused "manual" kaizen first, before he encouraged his workers to tackle "machine" kaizen. In other words, he wanted his people to build up this skills of his people with simple things before they tackled more advanced problems.
The same advice can be adapted for leaders who are tempted to jump into their first Kaizen Event. My advice: BEWARE! A cautious approach is required especially when you put others interests in jeopardy. Notice I said, “others interests”. This could mean responsiveness to orders, cost sensitivity, safety or just plain ol’ good will.
I suggest to you that the (in)famous kaizen event often puts leaders into the very undesirable situation that is often difficult to overcome: likely failure.
Kaizen events have been so over-hyped based on short term results that their lack of lasting success is rarely considered as a deterrent to conducting one. Assuming you have few logistic, personnel and resource issues to deal with, here is the number one problem that you may encounter:
Forcing a Solution
As leaders we are supposed to develop people. The goal is NOT how many kaizen events we lead in the fiscal year. A common problem in kaizen events is encountered sometime around the middle of the week, or the, "Pit of Despair". The situation on Tuesday or Wednesday is that a solution is not visible to the team. Sometimes, a breakthrough is made and the team emerges from the Valley of Death, exhausted by trying to meet the "five-days-and-four-nights-deadline", somewhat incredulous of results and often not wanting to participate in a kaizen event for many weeks to come. If this has happened to you, you are half lucky and half successful. At least the team came up with a solution you accepted. 
The alternative path from the Pit of Despair is one that the team CANNOT navigate on their own. Here is where leaders may or may not have a predetermined solution in mind, or has an opinion of what the solution should or shouldn't be and the team members disagree or can't see it as a viable solution. In any combination of these scenarios, the leader resorts to being a manager and imposes his will on the team. In effect, he squashes their creativity, their intelligence, their will and self-esteem. Why do we do this? Sometimes we put our people into a situation where we feel we must impose our will because:
  • we have chartered (committed our reputation as a leader) to conduct a kaizen event and promised to solve a problem, and/or,
  • we feel our teams mistakes will jeopardize others' interests, including our own as stated previously.
In either scenario, we have failed as leaders.
In both instances, we have bitten off more than we can chew. And we have also probably done a poor job of planning and pre-work with the team members so that the problem and solution is not understood and worked out by the team prior to the event. The kaizen event and its outcomes should be preplanned, BY THE TEAM, prior to kickoff. Where will your people get the skills to do such a thing?
An alternative approach is to put your people in small, local, situations (e.g., workcell, cubicles, workstations, etc.) where they can make safe mistakes while honing there standardization, problem solving and collaborative skills with like minded people. In these situations they will realize many successes. As their kaizen skill increases as an individual, you can then pull those skilled, developed people together as a collaborative team to make safe, large improvements in a kaizen event that have been well thought out using the PDCA cycle – a skill that can only be honed first as individuals under your tutelage.
Kaizen Teian first. Kaizen Event last.
Further Reading:
Books about Kaizen Teian (employee involvement/idea/kaizen systems):
The Amazing Oversight (from the seventies, collection of articles from management leaders)

Read about kaizen events some other time.

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Lean Certification on The Lean Nation

Call in to the Lean Nation at 437-5000 or 888-345-0790

Call in from 4:00 to 5:00 daily to talk to Karl live on the air!

This is my fifth year as a member of the Shingo/AME/SME Lean Certification program committee. A colleague on the committee, Tim Pettry of the Cleveland Clinic, will be talking to Karl Wadensten on the Lean Nation tomorrow. 

If you are interested in the Lean Certification, listen to the show and call in to ask questions! The title link above will take you to the Lean Nation website where you can stream the program live and download past podcasts.

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Total Recall: The Toyota Story on CNBC

I've been a bit out of the blogger realm since end of May...family, the new job (seven months now) and life in general have pushed the blog/website priority to a late night affair.

One thing about this heat wave in Vermont, I was able to commission the TV tonight. I think my wife was too wiped out to even put up a fight for the controller! While surfing through the many, many channels that I pay for but don't watch - a Japanese factory worker caught my eye...

Behold! A 1 hr piece on CNBC - about Toyota. As I'm watching workers work and parts move through the Trim Door Kaizen Gate, I begin to hear less about the Toyota Production System, which the show does a typical cursory job of covering - and then I watch as the show transforms into some sort of hit piece on the Japanese company.

As the story continues to bash Toyota, presenting speculative versions of what happened in the Sudden Unintended Acceleration recall by lawyers, government officials, management "gurus" and otherwise hacks, we see lots of footage of factory work. There is even a short clip of some Job Instruction at an off-the-line tire installation station.

One thing the story probably got half right - and this is arguable since none of us REALLY know: Toyota probably caught a bad case of "big company" - where they decided to be bigger than GM, rather than focus on making good cars better. At least this is what one of the talking heads, Peter Brown claims.

In the end, and as most "news" shows go, there is no resolution. Only biased conclusions based on mostly speculation.

But don't take my word for it, you judge for yourself. I was hoping to see a technical story about the recall problem but apparently, genbutsu (facts?) are too much for the media to uncover.

CNBC airtimes: 
Wednesday, July 7th  8p | 12a ET
Sunday, July 25th  8p ET

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