Friday, March 17, 2006

Kaizen Priorities Part 2

My post on Kaizen Priorities caught the attention of Bill Waddell over at Evolving Excellence blog that inspired him to write Lean Manufacturing providing his opposing view on this topic. In my opinion, Bill has excellent viewpoints on lean and provides passionate insights to lean manufacturing. However, I think just a little bit differently than Bill on this topic.

First, the points that I am promoting in Kaizen Priorities are simply to 1) avoid debates and arguments about lean like this one and just start improving, and 2) there are some weaknesses held against the lean approach and that targeted kaizen may yield visible results faster. I guess I failed on both points. The post did not in any way, shape or form pretend to describe the entire scope and the core essence of kaizen or the Toyota Production System. One short post could possibly do it.

Second, I am positive that we can all agree that any improvement in business is good. According to the Japanese business philosophy as described by Massaki Imai, "Whenever and wherever improvements are made in business, these improvements are eventually going to lead to improvements in areas such as quality and productivity."

So how can any suggestions for improvement be "wrong"?

As far as I know, it is correct to state that Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo did not directly promote looking at bottlenecks. It is well documented, Taiichi Ohno believed strongly that the starting point of kaizen is being aware or recognizing a problem first. See the need, then start at the problem. His definition of a problem took the form of a burden to people or inconvenience downstream to other employees or customers.

This point leads to the concept of kaizen. I was taught kaizen is more than just continuous improvement of a process or cycle time focused, it is about people. The meaning of kaizen includes the development, training and improvement of people along with removing the burdens that people deal with in work. This higher principle of kaizen is found in my suggestions to look at removing bottlenecks and improving the hardest job in the organization.

Shigeo Shingo stated, "There are four purposes of improvement: easier, better, faster and cheaper. These four goals appear in the order of priority." This viewpoint, again, starts with people. According to Bill's post, we must concentrate on compressing cycle time. This approach just focuses on "faster" and ignores "easier, better and cheaper." All my kaizen suggestions are aimed at easier, better and faster thinking cheaper will follow.

Finally, the disagreement with my suggested kaizen priorities could be just the differences between Japanese management and American management approaches. The Japanese management approach is geared towards long term thinking and process orientation whereas the American management approach is bias towards short term thinking and results orientation. Look at promotions, hiring and firing in America, it is all results based. Just look at nearly every management performance review in America, it's results that matter most( not attitude, effort, techniques or methods). We measure companies on the bottom line, we measure coaches on win-loss records and we measure people on getting the job done with results.

My kaizen priorities are an attempt to go from a process orientation versus results orientation conflict into believing both are equally important, its process orientation and results orientation. Just like the quality and cost goals should be equally important and not one versus the other. With this viewpoint, I attempted to stay true to the meaning of kaizen by removing burdens to people (bottlenecks, tough jobs, etc) while achieving visible results.

Repeating the words of Massaki Imai, "Whenever and wherever improvements are made in business, these improvements are eventually going to lead to improvements in areas such as quality and productivity." As I see it, the biggest problem that American management has with this is the "eventually" part.


Chet Frame said...

I use the analogy of walking into a black room with a can of white paint. It doesn't matter where I start, I will show improvement. You have given me a context for where to start and Bill has said it always has to be in that corner.

I have found that as we improve one aspect - improved process, reduced cycle time, improved capability, or reduced cost - the other aspects become issues to be resolved or they become a part of the work at hand. If we run a kaizen blitz to shrink the footprint of an operation or a line, we simplify, we reduce, and we improve as we go. And when we are finished with that task we have opened up other windows for improvement of other aspects.

As to the accounting rant, if we let the numbers guide us to our next target, we would never get out of Lean Office projects, because ~50% of our cost is overhead. I joke with my peers and my students that the reason Lean Office is not more popular is that some smart people have realized that the natural progression of lean in their offices would be the end of their department and the cost it creates.

Mark Graban said...

I disagree that improving cycle time is just about "faster." Most cycle time improvement opportunity comes from "easier" (removing waste, delays, etc.) and "better" (improving quality, which improves cycle time).

When I think of "faster", I think of the idea of doing the value-added work faster. That's usually not the great opportunity, trying to push people or machines to be faster.

I'm doing a lot of lean work with hospital laboratories. 90% of their cycle time is waiting time, so we focus on layout changes and batch size reductions.... to me that's "easier", which does focus on cycle time.

"Faster" would mean literally running through the lab with tubes of blood and nobody wants to do that!

Thanks Mike for your on-going blogging. I think, though, it's unrealistic to say "let's not debate" this, because debate is inherent in the blogging culture and I think that's how we learn is by debating things.

Mike Wroblewski said...

Thanks Chet and Mark for your comments. The path of the lean journey has certainly not been filled with bottom line success in American manufacturing. As we sort out the issues in successfully adopting a lean philosophy in American, debates will exist.

curiouscat said...

I think this discussion is useful. There is another interesting post on a similar topic I ran across today: Looking for conflict. More of my thoughts : Lean and Theory of Constraints and Lean Thinking and Management