One of the hardest things to do as you transform to a lean enterprise is to find the time and resources to do kaizen or continuous improvement activities. Kaizen events yield great results and are a great learning and transformation tool. However, getting people to commit to three to five days is difficult. I often hear the argument that people can’t even take a week’s vacation from their regular responsibilities and now we want them to take five days “off” to fix a problem.
This is certainly a difficult position for lean enterprises. So what’s the answer? One answer is to institutionalize the continuous improvement. Make the effort part of the process by inserting a Reflection or Lessons Learned activity at key points in the process. Now I’m not saying to insert this in the middle of a process that has a 55 second cycle time, that would be ridiculous. However, as part of a development process, monthly planning cycle or hoshin planning it works very well.
Making the reflections activity part of the process is vital for a couple reasons. First, by making it part of the process, you will capture the resources required for the activity so you can now account for and budget for it. If you don’t, you will always be fighting to make the time. Second, you can ensure that it is completed by making part of the gate criteria before moving on to the next project.
The timing associated with the reflection is also critical. I’ve seen in a lot of organizations that they wait until the end of a project or program to do their reflection exercises. This might be convenient, buy is ineffective and turns into a check the box exercise. The issues at the beginning of the project are often forgotten or details aren’t clear anymore. Organizations do much better if they increase the frequency of the reflections for a couple reasons. First, all the issues are fresh on their mind, so the quality of information is greatly improved. Second, by doing the reflections more often, they don’t take as long. Third, and maybe most importantly, other projects that are month or quarter behind will benefit from the output where it would have been missed had it been delayed till the end of the project.
In order to help institutionalize continuous improvement in your organization:
1. Institute a reflections or lessons learned activity
2. Establish a standard format for the activity to enable cross departmental activities
3. Make it part of the process
4. Perform reflections on short cycles not waiting till the end of a project or program.
5. Get the enterprise to perform their own reflections, don’t keep it as a fixed duty of the Lean Org.