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Preview: Project Kaizen

Project Kaizen

Bringing the power of continuous improvement to the project setting

Updated: 2011-01-10T13:08:12Z


Big Ideas Come in All Sizes


In an earlier post I called kaizen a numbers game. I’ve often been asked to explain that. Some people have the notion that we only want the really good ideas or improvements. The little ones are just not that important. This view is particularly prominent in the project setting. Projects are discrete. Once they end […]

In an earlier post I called kaizen a numbers game. I’ve often been asked to explain that. Some people have the notion that we only want the really good ideas or improvements. The little ones are just not that important. This view is particularly prominent in the project setting. Projects are discrete. Once they end the team often disperses. In the construction setting, people go back to their companies only to be reassigned to another project and a new group of strangers. It’s easy to see how someone can have the view that we don’t have the time for anything but really big improvements.

Make a small change today
So, why do we seem to think that we don’t have the time? In my experience it comes down to being overloaded and overwhelmed. Having too much to do and being in a bad mood about it is often the situation on projects. While there might be many sources for that situation, it doesn’t need to prevail for the whole project. It may only take a commitment to make today better than yesterday.

In the spirit of doing better today, the smallest ideas are likely to be the easiest to adopt and copy. These improvements are sometimes called Quick ‘n Easy Kaizen. Makng one small change is both rewarding to the person making the change and if communicated to others can lead to a widespread adoption of the improvement and the possibility that someone will improve on what has already been improved. There’s no telling what might occur if this were the everyday habit of all team members.

There’s no such thing as a small idea
One small improvement often makes the way for larger improvements by eliminating the complexity of the situation. A series of small improvements can help someone see an opportunity for a bigger change. Big ideas are often obscured by the view that “it’s just not possible to do something in today’s situation.” Make a small change today.

The title for this post came from a section heading in the book Better Makes Us Best, by Dr. John Psarouthakis.

All Subaru Did Was Ask


Leaner is greener, but kaizen makes it all possible

Isn’t it amazing that the US government is getting behind green initiatives? I thought that reuse, recyle and reduce were cost effective by themselves. Apparently not. However…Subaru of America’s 20-year history challenges that. Drs. Alan Robinson and Dean Schroeder just published an article in the Wall Street Journal, Greener and Cheaper telling Subaru’s head start on the auto industry. Their story is inspiring. But even more, it’s a wake-up call. Why aren’t all businesses doing this?

Subaru America employees are one of the most prolific improvers
You’ve probably seen the Subaru ads on TV. It shows a plant in the middle of an idyllic field with deer going by. I’ve been to that plant. To think that deer are feeding on the property is amazing. This is a typical industrial setting. Except it’s not typical. Subaru is not dumping or land filling anything. How do they do it? In a word…kaizen.

Robinson and Schroeder explain the Subaru approach to support their claim that Greener Is Cheaper. Frankly, they could make an easier argument. Ask your workers to reduce waste and they will. The Subaru plant uses 100 fewer pounds of steel per car than they used to use. The don’t put anything in a landfill. They have engaged the whole workforce in finding wastes and eliminating them. Sounds like a great environmental stance. But I think it’s a more important strategy.

All they did was ask.
Subaru has an engaged workforce. The authors don’t say it in this article, but Subaru employees in the US are one of the most prolific group of improvers. These people are improving the business at over 100 adopted improvements per person per year. They’ve been doing that for at least the last four years. That’s 2 adopted improvements per person per week times 3000 employees.

Of course greener is cheaper. But more important is Subaru people are fully engaged in the mission of the company. That is the miracle of this story. And all they did was ask.

Use Kaizen to Grow More than Company Revenue


Encourage everyone to change a little every day. That's the kaizen way!

C an we cost-justify continuous improvement? Can you believe that people ask that question when deciding whether to adopt Quick and Easy Kaizen for their organization? Like not continuously improving is an option! Ralph Keller, President of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) set out to put the question to rest in his article for Industry Week, What’s Continuous Improvement Worth?

QnEK is the antidote to the 8th waste.
Ralph writes about the false savings people identify to justify continuous improvement. For instance, reductions in inventory are misrepresented as dollar-for-dollar savings. Instead, Ralph quotes one of his former bosses, “Revenue growth will cover lots of sins,” to indicate the payoff that is available from our continuous improvement efforts. He argues that driving out waste a little bit at a time and continuously will add up to a significantly enhanced competitive position. He cites a 2003 HBR article where mid-sized companies show 15% – 20% year-over-year revenue growth from their continuous improvement efforts.

Ralph failed to mention the big opportunity from kaizen initiatives. If you know anything about lean, then you know Ohno’s 7 Wastes. But do you know the 8th waste? Without getting into an argument about the “real” 8th waste, the prevailing view is that under utilizing the creativity of the workforce is a waste.

QnEK—daily kaizen—is the antidote to the 8th waste. How? Encourage everyone to change a little every day. That’s the kaizen way! For help with daily kaizen try the Kaizen Pocket Handbook.

Use Rough Numbers to Begin Improving Actions


Start improving efforts on projects with rough estimates of opportunity to reduce waste and with the Last Planner System.

There is no reason to let the lack of measurements get in the way of starting improving activities. I was reading an eWeek essay by Peter Coffee, Counting the Ways, that got me thinking about the 6σ approach to improvement. That approach is basically data-driven. Without measurements there are no improvements. Coffee said,

“Most businesses have no idea what they spend on unproductive hours.”

And we know unproductive hours—waste—exists everywhere. What can you do? Start with the Last Planner System®.

One of the first things I do with clients is to do a time-value analysis (TVA) of their value streams. Inevitably, about half of employee time is spent on non-value-added activities. In lean terms, this is both type-1 and type-2 waste. In addition, white-space—waiting for something to happen—makes up more than 50% of the cycle-time duration. These rough numbers are good enough to get you started with kaizen.

Removing white-space has an immediate effect on the business. It shortens the cycle-time and produces a one-time increase in cash flow. As attractive as that is, it isn’t necessarily easy to accomplish. It requires reliability throughout, particularly in the project setting. The one way I know to do that is with the Last Planner System® and a practice of securing reliable promises. Get started on removing the waste associated with variation. Use the Last Planner.

Small Change: Read a Few More Pages


Get in the kaizen habit of reading one to three more pages each day.

Read one to three more pages each day.

My day is busy. Waaay too busy. Yet I make time to read. I didn’t always read. In fact, before college I didn’t read anything. Once I got out of college I remember saying, “Thank God I don’t have to read anymore.” It was 12 – 15 years later that I took up reading again. It was in spurts. We had started our family—three boys—they were and continue to be a handful. Sometimes I would read a novel. Other times I’d just read a few news magazines. Eventually, I got in the habit of reading at least one book each month. I’m glad I did. I now read much more than that.

Looking back, I could’ve done a better job at adopting the “reading habit.” Susan and Larry Terkel, writing in Small Change, advise you start by reading “one to three (more pages) than you are currently reading (each week).” That doesn’t sound like a big deal. Grab a book…how about the Business Week book of the year, The Box, by Mark Levinson. It’s the story of how the shipping container has changed world-wide trade. (Ok, it might not be for you. So pick another book.) The point is to read…to engage in the world…to challenge ourselves to think differently about who we are and what we are doing. And it can happen with just one to three more pages a day. That is the spirit of kaizen.

Kaizen Is a Numbers Game


It’s been almost two years since Tom Peters claimed kaizen was dangerous. Now Silk and Spinach takes up the opposition, Kaizen Considered Harmful. “Kaizen frees the hands of the innovator. And to think that sloppy processes can support rapid innovation is dangerous advice, Tom.” As Norman Bodek says, “Kaizen is a numbers game.” The companies […]

It’s been almost two years since Tom Peters claimed kaizen was dangerous. Now Silk and Spinach takes up the opposition, Kaizen Considered Harmful.

“Kaizen frees the hands of the innovator. And to think that sloppy processes can support rapid innovation is dangerous advice, Tom.”

As Norman Bodek says, “Kaizen is a numbers game.” The companies that embrace continuous improvement will eventually rise to the top. Learn more about taking small steps.

If Kaizen Works for a Casket Manufacturer What Might it Do for You?


Project Kaizen and construction safety go hand-in-glove.

Each year Industry Week (IW) profiles the best manufacturers. The recent years’s lists have been dominated by firms employing lean approaches. Batesville Caskets is one of those firms, A Daily Routine of Continuous Improvement. In addition to their build just what is ordered and their commitment to continuous flow manufacturing, Batesville has become a benchmark company for many different manufacturers based on their commitment to kaizen.

At Batesville they call their continuous improvement efforts “Daily Improvement Target Countermeasures” or DITCA. While it’s a mouthful, their most recent efforts have saved the firm over $1 million. Their approach is like the Quick ‘n Easy Kaizen (QnEK) approach. As we’ve profiled before, QnEK is a numbers game. It’s like shots on goal. Over the season, the team that shoots more eventually scores more. Whether you’re working on a production line or on a project, making your job easier, safer, or doing something that adds just a little more value will eventually pay off in a big way. Batesville takes that approach. And they’ve recently been recognized by the National Safety Council for their outstanding safety record. Kaizen and safety go hand-in-glove.

Make One Small Change: Use More CFLs


Save the planet. Replace incandescents with CFLs.

Replacing just one incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) will make a big difference, especially if everyone did that.  It would reduce carbon emissions equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the road, or not burning 29,900 railcars of coal.See Fast Company How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take to Change the World? One. And You’re Looking at It  The impact on the environment is unbelievable.  You can’t make a better economic investment for your home.  Replacing one bulb is estimated to save you $66 over the lifetime of the CFL.  I replaced three bulbs with CFLs last year.Will Wal-Mart Change the World Selling CFLs? Let’s Wonder…  I’ll replace another six this month.  I hope you join me.

Small Changes for Better Health


Try the kaizen way of making small change to improve your health.

I‘m not in the habit of writing chapter-by-chapter reviews of books. This series on the book Small Change, by Susan & Larry Terkel is an experiment for me. I’ve been trying out the small change approach in a few areas of my life. I wrote about making a habit of appreciating and acknowledging others. It’s a habit that I want for myself.

There are many habits I want for myself. In Chapter 2 the authors propose a set of behaviors for better health and the small change approach for acquiring them as habits. We all know the benefits of exercise, sleep, good posture, and flossing. Do you have the habits you want? I don’t. But the authors go on to describe some other small changes that might make a big difference in your health. Did you know you can do eye exercises to potentially improve your sight? How about blowing your nose to stay healthy? Their advice to slow down to enjoy eating food might help you lose 20 pounds.

None of the Terkel’s advice is new. (Is anything really new?) They show us the practice of small change. It’s the kaizen way.

Small Changes in Life


5 rules for incorporating the habit of small change -- the kaizen way -- in our lives.

Kaizen is Toyota’s winning strategy for competing throughout the world. Small changes everyday by everyone keeps the automaker on its toes while stepping on those of their competitors. Susan and Larry Terkel claim, “Small changes are consistent with human nature and evolution.” Their book Small Change offers a straight-forward approach to adopting small changes and the kaizen way in your life. In this first of six postings that follow the chapters of their book, I’ll highlight the Terkel’s approach.

  1. Look closely at what you do everyday.
  2. Make only one change at a time.
  3. Make small change a constant in your life.
  4. Trust the power of small change, and remember, it will add up.
  5. Enjoy making small change.

A story in Fortune What It Takes to Be Great tells about the key to doing well. It’s not talent. It’s practice. Daily practice. Small change is the daily practice that can transform our lives.