Improve understanding to improve

During one of my coaching sessions at a manufacturing client we went on a Gemba walk to have a better cross-functional understanding of a specific value stream. As this organisation is fairly new on their KAIZEN™ journey, many of the participants were not familiar with some of the areas we visited. At a stage, while trying to identify improvement opportunities, an operator remarked:

 “You can’t improve something you do not understand.”

This was great KAIZEN™ insight and it reminded me of Taiichi Ohno’s viewpoint that you cannot improve if there is no standard. Applying standards imply a deep understanding of a process and how to execute the tasks associated with it. Standards provide the basis for training, auditing, diagnosing problems, or identifying non-conformances. Standards (in a Lean organisation) then leads to finding better ways (kaizen) to perform a task or to run a process. Continuously applying standards AND improving it, leads to sustained organisational improvement.

Here’s a few aspects to contemplate:

·        Do your operators, administrators, team leaders, and supervisors truly understand how value is created and impeded in your value stream(s)?

·        Which KAIZEN™ techniques can you utilise to bring about this improved insight and clarity?

·        Are your staff being developed to be Lean thinkers and KAIZEN™ practitioners?

·        A Lean leadership team (and middle management) should have a very good understanding of (i) the processes, and (ii) the people creating their products or services, as well as (iii) the problems preventing this value creation. This understanding can only occur if leaders and managers are intertwined with the Gemba (the actual workplace).

This motivated staff member’s experience challenges us to better understand the way we work by applying the KAIZEN™ toolset and its underpinning values and principles.

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