Kaizen – Everybody, Every Day, A Little Bit Better
By John Compton
I first encountered the concept of kaizen in the early 1980s through the teaching of Masaaki Imai and later through his book Kaizen: The key to Japan’s Competitive Success. Imai explained that the Japanese word “kaizen” translated into English as “to change for the good” meaning improvement. He further explained that Japanese businesses were practicing kaizen daily, focusing on improving work processes and productivity. In other words, Imai told us that the secret of Japan’s success was continual improvement of all processes by everyone in the company.
Today, the concept of continual improvement is well known in our industry and practiced to some extent by most companies. However, the key takeaway from Dr. Imai for me was not whether your business is improving, but the rate of improvement being achieved. Two companies can both be improving, but the one with the greater rate of improvement will eventually overtake the one with the slower rate as seen in Figure 1. Over time, the gap in performance between the two companies becomes substantial and directly affects competitiveness. The challenge is to find a way of accelerating your rate of improvement to capture the advantages in quality, time, and costs it brings.
Figure 1: Two Different Rates of Improvement
The answer in part lies with how you go about your practice of kaizen. To be sure, kaizen events that last 2-5 days focused on a specific target area are powerful and can produce significant improvement. A problem companies face with this approach is the large demand on time and resources created by such long events. Since many companies do not have the resources to run large numbers of these projects, it’s not surprising that some printing companies have embraced an alternative approach, one where small improvements are made every day by every employee.
The concept of making small improvements is often overlooked and not seen as meaningful as the large, visible outcomes of multi-day kaizen events. However, improving by only 1% can be just as meaningful in the long run. As you and your processes improve a little each day, those improvements, if maintained, compound over time and eventually yield significant gains. As seen in Figure 2, if you make a 1% improvement to a process every day for a year, you will end up over 37 times better by the time you are done. Small actions on the process don’t make much of a difference at the time, but thanks to compounding effect, they add up over the long term.
Figure 2: Compounded Effect of a 1% Improvement
This “1% solution” to the challenge of continuous improvement is perhaps the most powerful way yet to raise your company’s rate of improvement. By the way, this concept is beautifully addressed in the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. I highly recommend it.
Are You Fixing the Process or Just the Person?
By John Compton
When coaching teams on 5-Why problem solving, I often see the analysis stop short. Many times the problem solving will end with the cause and resolution of the individual event, without the identification of the process failure. The cause is explained as the failure of a person to perform their job correctly or lack of attention. The counter measure is often retraining, rewriting instructions, or reprimand. Without a process fix, the problems will continue and the countermeasures might add unnecessary complexity. Worse yet, it creates a blame mentality among the employees.
How often do your solutions and countermeasures focus on the person or single event? Improvement experts estimate that 95% of problems encountered are traceable to the process, while the remaining 5% are traceable to people. If we are to see benefits from improvement and problem-solving activities, we must learn to focus much more on the process than the person or any single event when a problem arises. Are you allowing a temporary containment countermeasure to remain in the system as a long-term fix, creating layers of cumbersome workarounds which are left to become a part of other people’s everyday work?
The message is this: learn to focus on the process when problems occur and make sure your solutions and countermeasures fix the process, not just the person.
By Jim Workman
The Toyota Production System (TPS) has been the model for Lean implementation across the world since it was developed and refined by Taiichi Ohno in the 1960s and 1970s. Countless books and articles have been written about it; however, the culture that allows it to thrive has been less well studied. In Toyota Culture by Jeffrey Liker and Mike Hoseus, the authors reveal how Toyota selects, develops, and motivates people to commit to the goal of building high-quality products. [Note: Hoseus, former HR executive at Toyota’s plant in Kentucky, will be a keynote speaker at the 2020 Continuous Improvement Conference next April.]
Toyota’s application of Lean thinking is first and foremost about culture. The primary principles of the Toyota Way, as described by the company itself, are continuous improvement and respect for people. These are underpinned by the cultural elements of challenge, kaizen, respect, teamwork, and Genchi Genbutsu (go and see for yourself). And yet, perhaps because of differences in Eastern and Western culture, the tendency in the West is to view Lean as a toolkit that can achieve specific objectives. That approach can bring improvement, but will lose momentum without the foundational beliefs and values to sustain it.
It’s clear that Western culture poses particular challenges to adopting Toyota’s cultural tenets because of strong individualism, short-term outlooks, and a different way of thinking about cause and effect. Toyota Culture explores how Toyota transferred its culture to the U.S. and other countries. Toyota did not compromise on core tenets of developing people, problem solving, standardization, and long-term thinking, but wisely recognized that it needed to adapt to national cultures.
The book delves into the efforts that Toyota undertakes to select employees that are inclined toward teamwork and who will fit well with the culture. Managers are taught to continuously support and teach the concepts of team problem solving, a clean and safe workplace, clear and open communication, visual management, and servant leadership, among others. HR managers are expected to spend much of their time on the factory floor.
A fascinating aspect of Toyota’s cultural thinking is the People Value Stream. This mimics the Product Value Stream in differentiating between value-added and non-value-added time, only in this case it identifies value-added time as that which is used to attract the right people, develop people to do quality work, engage people in improvement, and inspire people to learn and grow. In light of this perspective, how often in the span of your employee’s careers is your company adding value?
After a company grasps its current situation, it can develop a future vision and come up with a plan to close the gaps. Doing this supports the notion that employees are truly a company’s most important assets.
Toyota Culture is an important book for anyone studying how to create a work environment that will help a company improve faster than its competition.
Browse our other recommended books at ci.printing.org/recommended-reading-list.
Peer Group Openings
Printing Industries of America is seeking additional individuals to join our peer groups. There is one opening in our OpEx Peer Group comprised of senior managers (presidents, COOs, and VPs) from medium to large printing companies striving for operational excellence. The group meets in person twice per year.
There is also an opening in our CI Peer Group, which is made up of individuals (quality managers, CI directors, operations managers, etc.) from printing companies already engaged in continuous improvement and Lean initiatives. There is one in-person meeting per year and two web conferences.
Peer groups are a terrific way to network, learn new ideas, and get feedback on current challenges.
2020 Continuous Improvement Conference
The 2020 Continuous Improvement Conference (April 5–8 in Columbus, OH) is the only industry event focused on helping printing and converting companies achieve operational excellence and Lean leadership. Attendees directly link reduced costs, lowered waste, and increased profit margins to ideas gained from conference presentations and networking.
Whether you’re starting a structured improvement program or are looking for ways to sustain and improve your existing efforts, the conference has content specifically designed for your knowledge level. There will be 30 speakers, 25 presentations, 7 networking and social sessions, 3 pre-conference workshops, 3 plant tours, and several hundred attendees.
To learn more about the event, visit ci.printing.org.
Continuous Improvement newsletter is published seven times a year by Printing Industries of America. Send submissions and subscriptions requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.