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Kaizen in Action


Getting Ready for the Kaizen Event

Every Kaizen event begins with defining a scope and building a strawperson direction. The scope document is developed with the key stakeholders. These are the people who either have authority over whether the Kaizen event happens or whether the changes proposed for the target work process are implemented. The scope document records information that describes the business, the target work process, and what the key stakeholders seek from the Kaizen event. Using the scope information, the Kaizen leader creates a mission for the event, a set of goals, and a statement of the do's and don'ts for the Kaizen team. These components make up the strawperson direction for the event. The mission states the purpose the team will pursue. It always includes the business results the event will produce and the improvement in the performance of the target work process it will make to generate those results. The goals set out the specific areas the team will address. The do's and don'ts tell what the team is empowered to do and what it may not do. Each of these is a "strawperson" because it is based solely on what the scope says. Later, once the event begins, the Kaizen team will rebuild each of these based on the facts in the workplace and reconcile any differences that emerge.

After talking with Sandra, I prepared a scope document and a strawperson direction for the event. I then shared these materials with both Sandra and Mike, the two key stakeholders. Exhibit 4 presents the strawperson mission, goals, and do's and don'ts for this event.


Exhibit 4. Strawperson Direction for ABC Gases Kaizen Event



To increase profit without increasing price and elevate customer satisfaction with on-time delivery by reducing the cycle time and cost of the nonflammable blending work process for ABC Gases and its stakeholders.


  • Reduce unit cost.
  • Reduce cycle time.
  • Improve safety.

Do's and Don'ts

Must or Can Do's Can't Do's
  • Can make decisions about improvements in the blending process as long as there is no negative effect on the other organizations with which blending interfaces.
  • Must get agreement from another depart- ment prior to executing a change if the proposed change requires an adjustment by that department in how it operates.
  • No overtime. Event should stay within regular working hours.

Once the scope was verified as correct by Sandra and Mike, my next task was to analyze whether to conduct the Kaizen event. As a professional, I am responsible for ensuring that what my clients seek is in their best interests and that a Kaizen event on the target work processes they are specifying can deliver what they want. My responsibility is not to second guess my customer but to independently verify the customer's thinking so that if a problem exists from my perspective, I can raise it and we can work it through together before resources are expended. In essence, I analyze whether to conduct the event assuming the perspective of the business that is asking for the event and my knowledge of Kaizen. In doing this, I apply five tests. I test whether (1) the focus of the Kaizen event makes sense, (2) the business case for doing the event is reasonable, (3) people will support the event, (4) the setting and resources available to the event are adequate, and (5) the timing of the event will not interfere with business. To complete this analysis, I must estimate the resources needed for the event and talk with prospective team members to get a sense of their thoughts about the work process, its problems, and the prospects of improving them. I also gather more specifics about the work process such as its overall operating cost and factor costs (e.g., labor, machine, raw materials). Once I have brought my thinking to a conclusion, I get back with the key stakeholders and let them know my perspective on the event.

My analysis of the proposed event for ABC Gases indicated that the event could achieve Mike and Sandra's purpose. The focus was to improve a work process that, in talking with team members, was having problems that affected cost and timeliness in fulfilling customer orders. While the amount of cycle time controlled by worker execution (as compared to machine execution) was limited, my conversations suggested that actual cycle time and "official" cycle time were not aligned. In fact, there was a lot more labor going on than management assumed. Even without this discovery, a significant reduction in labor time would accelerate the work process and, most importantly, based on the economics of the work process (90% of unit cost is labor), have an impact on unit cost. Also, this work process was negatively affecting a key customer value— on-time delivery. With respect to blended gases, the on-time delivery rate was only 84%. To increase this rate, the work process would have to be accelerated. My contacts also suggested that both management and workers were on the same page with regard to wanting improvements—even if not for quite the same reasons. Management wanted the cost down, and workers wanted the frustration of the work relieved. From the workers' perspective, the way the work process was currently operating led to a lot of wasted time and effort on their part.

All other factors supported doing the event. Preparation for the event looked quite possible given the resources at the site and the time we had in which to prepare. Also, as Sandra said, the timing of the event would not disrupt any other priority in the work process. She had enough staff to participate in the event and keep the work process rolling. Even if some of these issues had turned out to be problematic, we could have found ways to address them and still do an event. The value of the analysis is in raising the "red flag" early so that any issues can be resolved and success ensured. On the other hand, the analysis has turned up situations where doing an event—even after discussion with all key stakeholders—just made no sense.

With a sound event clearly specified, my next task was arranging logistics (e.g., meeting room, equipment, materials, meals, travel, lodging); gathering any additional business information I needed (e.g., work standards, safety procedures, management of change procedure); preparing communications to stakeholders; and connecting with stakeholders (e.g., the team, workers in the target work process) to prepare them for the event. Connecting with these people up front and staying connected with them throughout the Kaizen process is important to the success of any change effort, especially Kaizen because it is about engaging, energizing, and enabling people and not just about making process improvements. So I prepared a flyer to be posted in the blending area a week before the event, announcing the Kaizen event and asking workers for their ideas and suggestions. I communicated with the team members from the area ahead of time so they would be able to explain the flyer and the event and collect ideas from fellow workers. I also alerted the safety, maintenance, and work standards supervisors about the event and made sure that they would be available to us during the week the event was scheduled so we could get their counsel as needed. Finally, I inquired whether any best practice databases existed that might contain ideas relevant to the work process the event was to improve. If such a database existed, I wanted to be sure we could access it and draw ideas from it. Similarly, I inquired as to whether any other sites had developed improvements to the blending work process that might not yet be implemented at Oakland. Kaizen is about advancing improvement and not reinventing the wheel so if there were improvement ideas already uncovered and in use elsewhere, we wanted to incorporate them and add to their effectiveness and not spend the team's time rediscovering them. In this case, there was a best practice database, but its contents were poorly organized and its information was deemed of little value. Also, no other site had yet tackled the blending work process. It was this event that management hoped would seed improvements elsewhere.

With preparations complete, I finished the arrangements for my own travel and made sure I arrived sufficiently ahead of time to verify that the meeting room was properly set up and all the materials we needed were in place.

Kaizen Desk Reference Standard Excerpt: Kaizen In Action  
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