In recent years there seems to be an almost maniacal rush to “Get Kaizen,” or “Get Lean” as if there is a finish line in the process. There are many organisations, who want to do Kaizen joust because their competitor is doing same. but the long term philosophy and vision behind Kaizen efforts is not understood. Rapid results and large gains are, of course, part of implementing Lean Kaizen, and there is nothing wrong with the expectation of large benefits. The problem occurs when the short-term push for results crosses paths with some of the philosophical elements, which require a long-term view.

For example, we have led many focused improvement activities, called the “Kaizen Workshops” or “Gemba Kaizen Workshops”. It is exhilarating to see the waste, come up with innovative ideas for waste reduction, and actually make the changes right then and there. The results are almost always astounding to the participants. The new process takes a fraction of the space, there is a clearer understanding of flow, often fewer people are needed, and equipment that had been overproducing is often surplused. The team disbands after a big celebration. But two weeks later the process keeps stopping, some operations are overproducing, the visual management board is not kept up, and it’s business as usual, fighting one fire after another.

The typical problem is that none of the support systems were put in place to sustain what was accomplished in the one-week Kaizen Workshops. Skilled leadership is absent, for example. Standardized plans for reacting to breakdowns are lacking. There is no good process for daily equipment maintenance. Standardized work may be posted, but it is not understood or followed. The unseasoned manager who does not understand will start to revert to the old process, allowing inventory to build up and trying to drive production through brute force methods to chase the schedule.

Kaizen philosophy is to build a lasting learning organization in which problems are constantly surfaced and team associates are equipped with the tools to eliminate waste. When this occurs, you are developing a long-term capability for improvement and adaptation to the environment. A well-executed kaizen workshop can be a step in teaching people what is possible. But it should be part of a longer term strategy for developing lean value streams and ultimately a lean kaizen enterprise.

Clear direction and vision must be set for for guiding improvements. Complete analysis on current systems and priorities must be done to identify key areas of improvement and priorities for same. Trying to do many things at a go is often a recipe for failure. All efforts must be focused on few key areas first but based on a carefully thought plan and set targets. Every Kaizen activity done must be linked to business objectives not the other way round. RIB Consulting helps you set clear direction so that all Kaizen effort are focused on Key areas to achieve the desired results.