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Taking Organizational Problem Solving to the Next Level - It's not just one Kaizan Event after another.

Posted by admin on March 28, 2012

Taking Organizational Problem Solving to the Next Level - It's not just one Kaizan Event after another.

"Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Better now than later.  Problem solving and problem prevention do not stop regardless of the state of the economy.  In fact, organizational problem solving efforts should be maximized when time and people are available, before the full recovery kicks into gear.

Focusing on problems.  The Japanese term "Kaizan" means continuous improvement, often used synonymously with the term "Kaizan Event".  This activity is usually structured as part of a large-scale program encompassing the entire organization and promises quantum jumps in productivity, quality and effectiveness.  But these programs are difficult to implement because they take time, resources and a coordinated effort, and the approach affects cross-functional areas, people and processes.  The cost vs. benefit of these initiatives are debatable, especially when organizations have taken steps to cut costs, rationalize business and reduce staff.

Another Approach.  In today's economic climate another approach is to focus improvement efforts on specific deviations or problem areas impacting productivity, quality and delivery.  A smaller-scale initiative--referred to as a "Kaizan Blitz"-- is a focused, localized, short-term effort to solve product, process and human performance problems.  It typically requires a facilitator trained in robust analysis techniques to produce immediate results.  This effort includes skills training occurring in conjunction with problem analysis, solution design and corrective action implementation.  Lasting anywhere from 2 to 10 days, it is a powerful way to produce results.  The overall cumulative effect is often greater than a single large improvement initiative in changing organizational behavior. 

Which is better?  Neither, we submit.  Continuous Improvement (CI) should not be a scheduled event.  It should be a mix of activities that are done routinely, every day as part of worker responsibilities.  The real basis of organizational success lies in training, learning, organizational design and competence.  Organizations that embrace the concepts of agility and flexibility and use simple, repeatable and easy-to-employ analytic processes as an integral part of daily operations understand the true spirit of Kaizan.  This becomes the benchmark of an organization's conduct of operating.  

Organizing for continuous improvement.  It starts with training that "sticks"; training that takes place not in a classroom but rather during daily operations in the workplace, "just-in-time" to resolve issues as they arise.  Root cause analysis and problem prevention analysis are required skills that work along with good decision making, priority management and project planning involving all functions of the organization (see additional information below).

But training alone won't do it.  There must be a commitment on the part of the organization and all its members to embrace CI as a way of life; to be constantly on the hunt for ways to improve and do things better, faster and with less expense.  Departments, work teams, process flows, shop floors and offices must be engineered and arranged to maximize CI.  The performance environment must be designed so that everyone knows what results are expected and how those results will be achieved within the CI framework.  Resources to do the job, performance feedback and a reward system must also be in place for CI to incubate and take hold as a way of life.

Continuous Improvement Roadmap

 *  Recognize the non-conformance

 *  Contain the incident

 *  Understand the process

 *  Establish the improvement goal

 *  Conduct causal analysis

 *  Take corrective action and extend the fix to like operations and processes

 *  Plan preventive and mitigating action to prevent recurrent

 *  Establish accountabilities and evaluate solutions