Doing the Event
Day 1 - Focus the Kaizen Event
The event was set to begin at 8 AM, Monday. I arrived early with my
co-leader to be sure that our meeting area was still set up correctly
and to meet each team member personally as he or she arrived. I had spoken
with each team member previously but had not met each person face to
Once all the team members arrived, I asked for their attention. I began
by reintroducing myself and my co-leader and stating the purpose of the
team's getting together. This I shared in a simple summary way: "We are
here today to significantly improve the blending of nonflammable gases
work process for our business, its customers, and all its stakeholders
by applying the Kaizen tool."
Once I confirmed that the team members knew each other, I reviewed administrative
issues (e.g., bathrooms, refreshments, etc.) and safety procedures. Next,
I told the team that we would begin by doing a warm-up exercise in which
we would think about and share with each other what seemed to work well
in the target work process and what was problematic. This exercise would
give us an opportunity to start thinking about the work process and to
uncover the team's concerns and those the team had heard from other employees.
We built a list of pluses and minuses with respect to how the work process
currently operates; we posted this and used it as a reference during
the event. Right away, however, we made a discovery that had a big impact
on the event. One team member noted as a minus how long it took to get
the filling done. In exploring this, he indicated that it typically took
a whole day to finish just six cylinders (three orders). That is two
hours longer than we had heard during all previous conversations. In
discussing it further, it became clear that the job included a great
deal of waiting for empty cylinders; alternatively, fill operators could
prepare cylinders themselves. "Nathan and the other maintenance workers
just can't get all the cylinders prepared when we need them, so we either
wait or help out by getting and prepping the cylinders as part of the
blending process," Reggie said. The other fill operators agreed. Nathan
added: "You see, we don't just prep cylinders. That's a small amount
of our time. We are responsible for unloading cylinders from the trucks
and repairing cylinders, among other jobs." So, while management was
correct in detecting that blending was taking too long, it was off by
not recognizing that a major portion of the time being spent was either
waiting for or doing another work process.
It seemed clear that cutting down the blending cycle time required us
to extract this preparation work from it. That probably would not completely
achieve our mission but would make a significant contribution to it.
Tackling two processescylinder preparation and blendingas
we were about to do, violates our standard approach, which specifies
one work process per event. On the other hand, the two processes together
involved no more than four hours of actual work once machine time was
discounted. Thus, the total time required for both work processes was
within the allowable limit of four hours for one event. Also, we had
within the team expertise to address both work processes, along with
an experienced Kaizen event leader and co-leader. I therefore decided
that we could successfully address the two processes. In compliance with
our do's and don'ts, I spoke with Mike T., maintenance supervisor, to
get his okay about the team's looking into ways to improve the cylinder
preparation work process. I had already communicated with Mike prior
to the event, so he was both aware of it and on board with its purpose.
He said he was happy that we would look into the cylinder preparation
process: "It's a bottleneck, no doubt about it. If the guys can help
fix that, it's fine with me. You know, the cost of that operation is
also booked against the blending work process so it's really all one
bundle of money anyway." Mike also said that he was comfortable having
Nathan as our contact person for changes and would stand behind any decisions
Nathan approved. "He knows the process and our situation in maintenance.
He's not going to go for anything stupid."
After we explored the team's sense of the target work process, I reviewed
with the team a simple set of communication skills team members had previously
learned. These are Working With Others (WWO) skills that enable people
to get and give information from and to each other effectively. (WWO
skills are delineated by J.S. Byron and P.A. Bierley in Working With
Others, Hope, ME: Lowrey Press, 2003). We applied these skills
throughout the event to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of
Next, team members built a set of ground rules for how they would work
together. These ground rules included items like "say what you think," "what
is said in the team stays in the team," and "use your WWO skills." With
these details satisfied, I provided a 20-minute presentation about Kaizen
and the process we would complete together during the week. I then asked
my co-leader to review the strawperson direction for the event and brief
the team on how we would accomplish it. He then reviewed the day's agenda
with the team. Our Day 1 agenda specified that the team would get through Task
D1. Focus the Kaizen Event (Exhibit 5).
After a short break, the team reassembled to begin the work of Kaizen. Task
D1. Focus the Kaizen Event specifies that the team's first job
is to build a direction for the event based on the facts in the workplace.
We build our "fact base" by describing the target work process and
doing a walk through of the process. With the information we gather,
we redefine the mission, goals, and do's and don'ts of the event, reconciling
the new direction with that we inherited from the scope document. This
process of focusing the event based on the facts in the workplace offers
many rich benefits.
- It enables the team to form a common understanding of what is going
on in the work process and ensures that the team works toward the same
end. (Remember, the strawperson direction is based only on the ideas
of the key stakeholders.)
- It ensures that the end the team aims toward addresses the real problems
in the work process.
- It finalizes the team's accountability so that the team can judge
- In the focusing process, the team learns about the concept of waste
and how to detect waste in the workplace. Being able to detect waste
is essential to applying Kaizen. Learning this skill enables team members
to not only uncover improvement opportunities during the event but
also prepares them to detect new opportunities as they continue to
pursue business improvement efforts after the event.
There are even more benefits from this focusing effort. For example,
it provides the team leaders with a reference point for judging whether
the demonstration of the work process they observe later in the week
properly represents how that process is supposed to be performed. The
focusing task is thus a very rich and important activity.
Build a Description of the Target Work Process
We now began to describe the target work process. Our description had
two components: an overview that captures the purpose of the work process
and certain essentials about it (e.g., inputs, outputs, departments with
which it coordinates); and a work process map that shows the sequence
of operations that execute it. Given the information I developed prior
to the event, I was able to draft both the overview (Exhibit 6) and the
work process map (Exhibit 7, page 32) and show them to the team for approval
or correction. As to the map, based on what Reggie said, I felt that
we needed to map activities occurring in the cylinder preparation work
process as well as the blending work process since fill operators were
doing both under the name of the blending process. The team agreed and
worked swiftly to confirm the overview for the blending process and then
the work process map.
In confirming the work process map, we reached several points where
team members disagreed about operations. For example, to what level of
vacuum did the cylinders need to be brought? Here, we were guided by
the official work standard which I, as the Kaizen leader, had acquired
in preparation for the event. Using the standard to resolve the questions
that arose had an added value. When the team got into the standard, we
found that it specified a range of acceptable vacuum levels rather than
a single level. Thus, both our operators were correct. What was not correct
was each person's notion that his or her way was the exact right and only way.
We discovered that many activities that may have been perceived as "required" might
well be optional or at least modifiable without violating the current
The cycle time estimate for the work process varied. When we added together
the cycle times for each blending operation we mapped, the total was
1 hour and 20 minutes if cylinders were ready and 1 hour, 46 minutes,
and 40 seconds if the fill operator prepared his or her own cylinders.
These cycle times are for a batch of two cylinders. The cylinder preparation
work process actually produces a batch of 12 cylinders, so we determined
its cycle time contribution to producing one batch of cylinders filled
with a nonflammable blend by taking one-sixth of it. We used the cycle
times for the backbone operations of the blending work process only to
compute our time estimates. These cycle times are for a unit of output
done on its own. Actual times for per unit production are different because,
as Sandra said, orders are not processed on a single piece basis. For
example, as one is being filled, another is being readied to fill.
We could begin to see waste in the work process as we mapped its operations.
There was much paperwork to complete, several wait periods (even with
interweaving the production of different orders), and repeated inspectionsall
of which might offer opportunities for improvement.