I learned how to run a kaizen directly from the Shingijustu Company (men who spent years working directly for Taiichi Ohno at Toyota). They had a rather dramatic approach. “What do you want to work on?” they would ask me, and when I replied, their response was, “Ok, let's go, start moving equipment and start a cell.” This was shocking, and it worked. As we went along with this, they taught us the organization, structure, tools, and materials needed to run a kaizen. But it all started simply, on the shop floor. See the waste, eliminate the waste, right now.
Some people argue that this approach (which is at the heart of my book The Lean Turnaround) is “old school” kaizen—with the implication that Lean today has moved on to more sophisticated tools with more analysis and other practices. This strikes me as a bit sad—a sign that the traditional management approach of “planning” is winning out over the essential lean/kaizen approach of “doing.” Moreover, it helps explain why so few companies today are successful at becoming lean enterprises. They don’t trust that a rapid kaizen approach is still the most effective way to become a lean enterprise.
Let me explain how this approach affects something as simple as training. Most companies devote far too much time to off-site, formal programs that tell you “about” Lean yet leave you with little to do. When it came to training in the companies I have worked with, we didn’t believe in having a big formal process. Typically, everyone got a brief introduction to our overall lean strategy early on. We discussed why we were going down the lean path, what type of results we expected based on the results of other companies, and why this would benefit both our customers and our associates. This teaching was pretty high level and aimed at getting everyone comfortable with the notion that we would be going through a major change of everything we did. We stressed the fact that this was going to be “continuous improvement” and therefore had no end point unlike any other improvement activity they had experienced. We also explained that this was something that you could only really learn by doing and as a result we would get every one on a kaizen team as soon as we could.
"Most companies devote far too much time to off-site, formal programs that tell you "about" Lean yet leave you with little to do."
Then we got right to work. We felt the best way for someone to learn Lean was to get detailed training right before the kaizen. This allowed it to be put to use immediately and eliminated the possibility of wasting the training. Even then our training was not extensive, nor did it need to be. If you were going to be on a kaizen next week, we made you go to about a three hour training session on the Friday afternoon before the event. This was conducted by our KPO and consisted of reviewing the paperwork so that everyone understood a standard work sheet, a standard work combination sheet, a time observation sheet, and all of the other paper work. We trained people in how to use a stop watch and do time observations. We also reviewed TAKT Time and the cycle time (the rate at which products are produced), so that everyone could understand how to use these tools to see the work in a completely different way--ultimately, to connect your production to your customer. If it was an office type kaizen, we also taught how to do value stream mapping so that people could begin to see the waste that existed.
That was about it. We believed in the lean concept of “learn by doing” and it always proved to be the best way to both train and get great results at the same time. As more and more of our associates were on multiple kaizens it was amazing how fast they picked things up. People knew exactly what to do when faced with the next challenge. A great example here is one of my J. W. Childs Associates portfolio companies, Esselte Corporation. Every August we hold a management kaizen in one of their largest plants, which happens to be in Poland. This brings all of the senior management team onto the shop floor for a week. They have all now been on multiple kaizen teams so they know exactly what to do and can hit the ground running. I function as the consultant, so I work with all the teams. We usually have six teams so I can’t even get to the fifth and sxith teams until the afternoon of the first day. The nice thing is it no longer matters. By the time I get to them, they are already going down the right path and making good progress.
The bottom line is this: don’t get carried away with a lot of training. Focus on the doing.