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Kaizen in Action


Walk Through the Target Work Process

We next prepared ourselves to complete the walk through. To get the team ready, I explained what a walk through is and why it is done. The purpose of the walk through is to gather more information about the work process, the work areas within which it is performed, and any instances of waste. With this information, the team has the facts needed to define a mission and set goals for the event. Team members literally walk through the process from beginning to end, if time permits, focusing on learning about the work process and detecting instances of waste. The team makes observations, asks questions, and listens to what workers say. After the walk through, the Kaizen event co-leader conducts a separate personal interview of each operator to gather his or her ideas about ways to improve the process. We find a personal interview for gathering worker judgments is better than asking the questions during the walk through, as it provides the worker greater privacy.

In planning the walk through, I saw that we could not observe every operation as it is performed within the one hour allotted for the walk through. Therefore, I made selections and got the team's feedback. We wanted to physically walk through each area in which work is performed so that we could get a sense for distances and the flow of work. At a minimum, we wanted a "talk through" on each activity. Before we began, my co-leader instructed the team in how to detect waste. This instruction is critical as it provides team members with a fresh way to view their work activities and their workplace. This fresh perspective opens their eyes to previously unseen improvement opportunities.

Nathan provided the talk through and demonstrations of the cylinder preparation process. We wanted to see where Nathan got his paper work and unprepared cylinders, how he hooked up a cylinder, where the vacuum and purge equipment were located, and where he moved his prepped cylinders once he was done. This all sounded like a lot of transport activity and setup, both of which are forms of waste in that they do not materially contribute to the final product but do consume resources. Also, we were interested in seeing the start of the vacuum and purge operations and especially how cylinders are hooked up to the manifold. We were concerned about the ergonomics of the activity as well as with safety. Additionally, the vacuum and purge operations ate up a lot of cycle time, so we wanted to see if we could detect any ways to speed machine operations. Before we observed the activities, Nathan told us how he reviewed the paperwork on each cylinder he prepared, then got the cylinders from storage and checked the test dates stamped on them. We observed the hook-up of several cylinders. Afterward, Nathan showed how he placed a collar on the prepped cylinder and told us about the additional paperwork he completed.

Next we observed the fill process. We could observe each operation up to the filling activity itself as, together, they required no more than 14 minutes to perform. We were especially interested in the cylinder prep activity, as this seemed to indicate a repetition of work that maintenance had already completed. We also suspected that the rolling operation after the cylinders were filled might be important to see. We thought that there would be lifting involved which could have safety and ergonomic implications. Reggie led us through the blending process, demonstrating the operations we wanted to see.

The value of the walk through was evident. First, we saw that the prepping activity inside the blending process did not repeat work done in maintenance, but did seem as if it might better belong to that process. This activity involves scraping off old labels (usually four, some of which do not come off easily) and doing touch-up painting of bare spots on the cylinders. While observing the rolling operation, I discov- ered that the platform on which the cylinders rested while they were rolled rotated to a vertical position so that the movement of the cylinders onto the rolling machine did not require lifting. The cylinders were moved to the platform in its vertical position and placed on a support connected to the rolling platform; the platform was then tilted back to its horizontal position for rolling. The operators moved cylinders from place to place two at a time, tilting them on edge and rotating them in the direction they needed to travel. This avoided the need to lift and carry cylinders. Also during the walk through, Nathan noticed that a vacuum pump with piping was mounted up on a wall, seemingly away from the processing. He asked about it; it turned out to be a spare vacuum not in use. This discovery would play an important role in the solutions generated later in the week.

With the walk through over, the team members regrouped to pool their observations and share whether they had detected instances of waste. The team made 51 non-redundant observations of waste during the walk through. The team categorized this list by type of waste, which involved looking at each observation, deciding what type of waste it represented, and recording it on a flipchart page titled with that type of waste. This activity provided the team an opportunity to practice what it had learned about the different categories of waste prior to the walk through. It also would provide us with a rapid visual assessment of which types of waste were most dominant in the work process. We needed this analysis to build our fact-based direction (i.e., mission, goals, and do's and don'ts).

Travel/transport and setup were the forms of waste with the most examples; the categories of wait, hazard, and interruption were next in order of frequency of observations. With respect to travel/transport, the operator had to travel to get labels, valves, nets, leak soap, wrenches, and orders. Every step used time. Almost all the prepping work process and most of the blending work process was setup. Each involved getting cylinders ready for reuse or preparing them for machine operations (vacuum, purge, vent, and roll). During these machine operations, the operator waited. Workers also waited for orders to be processed and put into the pickup bin. Some of the hazards observed included the operator not wearing a face shield and cryogenic gloves, a cable exposed on the floor (trip hazard), a door stop on the oxygen blend booth that did not work, and the operator not wearing earplugs. The normal processes of prepping and blending were each interrupted by having to sort cylinders, make repairs, deal with power surges, and answer questions about orders. Equipped with our profile of waste in the work process, we were ready to build the mission, goals, and do's and don'ts that would guide us during the remainder of the week.


Build the Mission Statement

Building the mission statement required us to work from the waste we observed to the effects it had on overall performance of the work process. We then took this work process problem and asked ourselves how that affected business success. We came up with this mission: To expand profit margins and ensure customer satisfaction with on-time delivery by reducing cycle time and the unit cost of blending nonflammable gas mixes for ABC Gases and all its stakeholders.

To finish our work, we needed to compare this mission based on what we observed in the workplace with the mission developed from the scope document (see Exhibit 4, page 26). They matched, so we went with the language of the scope mission since that was already approved by the key stakeholders. Note that at least 20% of the time, the two versions of the mission statement do not match, and the team then needs to reconcile the differences. That is why we make sure that the key stakeholders are available to us during the week of the event.


Set Goals for the Kaizen Event

Setting the goals was even easier than defining the mission. Basically, we took the top five forms of waste we had discovered during the walk through and stated a goal to reduce the presence of each. The goals we set based on the walk through were: reduce travel and transport by 25%, reduce setup by 50%, reduce wait time by 50%, eliminate all hazard items, and reduce interruptions by 50%. The team estimated an amount of reduction based on what it saw and how much change it felt was needed to improve the work process and produce the promised business results. (The precise reduction is not that important at this point. Once we do the process observations during Task D2. Evaluate the Target Work Process, we have exact quantitative information with which we can better specify reduction targets.)

We checked the goals set based on the walk through with those set based on the scope. They were consistent—as usual, however, the walk through provided a richer set of goals than had the scope since it built the goals using far more information than is available from the scope document. We accepted the goals based on the walk through and added to them two goals from the strawperson direction that addressed unit cost reduction and cycle time since we felt that the key stakeholders might want to see these goals in the list even though we had already stated them in the mission.


Define the Do's and Don'ts

We had no new information about do's and don'ts from the walk through, so the team adopted those already specified based on the scope. Exhibit 8 (next page) shows our final direction. Compare it to the strawperson direction I developed based on the scope document (Exhibit 4, page 26).

Close Day 1

At the end of each day, the team reviews the day's agenda, noting what it accomplished and completes an exercise that evaluated what went well during the day and what went poorly. This is called a plus/minus exercise. We use it to identify how to improve our process during the next day of the event.

At the end of Day 1, the team indicated that it valued the Kaizen presentation, as it provided an understanding of what team members were being asked to do. They liked the way things were organized, since it allowed the team's work to move along without any hitches. They also liked the mapping activity, which was the first time the operators in the team had seen a visual representation of all the tasks they did in completing their jobs. Another valued experience was the discovery that there is a lot of difference in the way operators worked and that the work standards gave them latitude to change. Previously, each person was operating under the notion that the work had to be done the way he or she was doing it. This discovery excited the team members, because it seemed to say that they could make change. Finally, the team thought that it had gotten a lot done in one day and that team members had followed the ground rules, especially that about using their WWO skills. On the negative side, apart from walking around the plant on the walk through, there was a lot of sitting and talking time which, while productive, was not the team's preferred way to spend time. The team would rather be doing things. Given the Kaizen hands-on approach, I knew that we would correct that problem in the following days.


Exhibit 8. Direction for ABC Gases Kaizen Event Following the Walk Through



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 travel and transport by 25%.
  • Reduce setup by 50%.
  • Reduce wait time by 50%.
  • Eliminate all hazard items.
  • Reduce interruptions by 50%.
  • Reduce unit cost.
  • Reduce cycle time.

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 department 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.
Kaizen Desk Reference Standard Excerpt: Kaizen In Action  
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