Published: 09 June 2020

How to improve business performance

 

Is your business performing as well as it should? Unfortunately, many companies are not always as efficient as they could be and struggle to identify and address the underlying issue. If you need to make your business more efficient, this article takes a look at the best proven methods to adopt, and what their application entails.

When the Toyota Production System and Lean started to expand outside of Japan in the 1970s, a technique known as the ‘Kaizen Event’ became one of the more formal approaches to fixing process problems or improving performance of a current process.

Kaizen, which is Japanese for “change for better”, means a philosophy of continuous improvement, particularly a one guided by the actual workers and not their managers. Kaizen is an ongoing, never-ending process of constantly making the workplace better by using observations and ideas from those closest to the process.

By contrast, a Kaizen Event is NOT an ongoing, never-ending process aimed at improving the entire workplace. Instead, a Kaizen Event lasts for only a short period of time, typically a 3 or 5 day focused burst of improvement that is directed toward one particular part of the workflow. These are highly facilitated sessions that bring a team together, usually 5 to 9 individuals who work within the process along with representatives from upstream (suppliers) and downstream (customers), each devoting 100% of their time during the period of the event.

So, there is a significant difference between Kaizen and a Kaizen Event. However, even with those differences, the end goals remains the same: to decrease waste and increase value as perceived by your customer. The success of both however relies greatly on Lean knowledge and experience, during a Kaizen Event this falls firmly on the shoulders of the event facilitator. It’s also not uncommon for the Kaizen Event team members to go through extensive hours of classroom training during the event to gain an understanding of the Lean techniques being applied to a particular problem, before attempting to successfully implement the method back in the workplace. So, the facilitator must also have the capabilities to present, teach and coach lean subject matter as well as being knowledgeable in Lean methodologies. While the Kaizen Event is great for workforce development and improving teamwork, results at times are quite understandably limited due to the lack of experience within the team. Therefore, you can’t consider Kaizen or more importantly a Kaizen Event as a ‘magic bullet’ that will deliver your desired outcome, just because you’re conducting events.

Executing Kaizen requires the enabling of the right mindset throughout a company, 10 principles that address this mindset are commonly referenced as core to the Kaizen philosophy. They are:

  1. 1. Let go of assumptions.
  2. 2. Be proactive about solving problems.
  3. 3. Do not accept the status quo.
  4. 4. Let go of perfectionism and take an attitude of repeating, adaptive change.
  5. 5. Explore solutions as you discover mistakes.
  6. 6. Create an environment in which everyone feels empowered to contribute (psychological safety).
  7. 7. Don't accept the obvious issue, get to the root cause.
  8. 8. Discard opinions from multiple people, use data to establish the facts.
  9. 9. Use creativity to find low-cost, small improvements.
  10. 10. Never stop improving.

These principals require some companies to bring about a massive change in their mindset and style of functioning. Sometimes this is extremely difficult, and the initial resistance created can badly affect the business overall. For instance, putting this management style into practice, requires businesses to have a very open style of communication. Also, many employees think very territorial and are hesitant to let go of ‘their’ work areas. When businesses are not able to deliver the results they expected, it makes individuals believe that Kaizen will not work for them.

However, the Kaizen Event remains an important weapon in the pursuit of improvement and BTA have completed hundreds of them over the years, all achieving significant results within a short period of time. These events are implemented in a seven-step cycle to create an environment based on continuous improvement. This systematic method includes:

  • ♦ Getting the employees involved. Seeking their help in identifying issues and problems creates the ‘buy-in’ required for change.
  • ♦ Identify the problems. Using the feedback from those employees closest to the process, generate a list of problems and potential opportunities for improvement.
  • ♦ Investigate a suitable solution. Encourage employees to offer creative solutions, with all manner of ideas encouraged.
  • ♦ Test the solution. Implement the chosen solution with everyone participating in the rollout.
  • ♦ Analyse the results. At various intervals, check progress, communicate status with employees keeping them informed and engaged. Together determine how successful the change has been.
  • ♦ Standardise. If the results are positive, update standard work instruction and re-train employees, adopt the solution throughout the organisation where appropriate.
  • ♦ Repeat. These seven steps should be repeated on an ongoing basis, with new solutions tested where appropriate or new problems tackled.

Although the team approach to any improvement event will always remain our preferred and advised option, we at BTA, all being past business executives, appreciate that time and resource availability quite often present an obstacle to the training and development element of this method, especially during a crisis situation. So how do you complete the tasks required to identify and conduct the necessary changes to the process, that will successfully deliver the required improvement, while causing the minimum disruption to the operation of the business?

One option is to engage the services of specialists who have extensive experience in the delivery of improvement projects, but also have a clear understanding that the aim of Kaizen is widespread cultural change, with its focus on gradual improvement. Without some form of involvement from employees any transformational change is guaranteed to be short lived once the ‘specialist’ has left as processes revert back to their original state. Our Accelerated Change Event (ACE) is BTA’s service provision approach to work-based problem solving, and process improvement requirements during a crisis.  ACE allows managers and employees to focus on the day-to-day business, while BTA investigate and address problems that the business can’t resource at this point in time, or that might require the skills and experience that are currently beyond the abilities of the team. 

As with all Change events whether they are Kaizen or an Accelerated Change Event (ACE) there are steps and stages that both will need to go through, the only difference between the two are who gets involved and how much involvement they will actually have.

There are typically 5 key stages and the times to complete are never set in stone as more issues may be uncovered during the event than what was bargained for!

If you fail to plan then you plan to fail.  This statement will always remain true.  It is important to note that the planning phase is extremely critical, and this will be done prior to the event commencing.  This is the key to success of the event.

Pre-Work

This list is not exhaustive and will change dependant on the scope of the event, however it will typically include:

  • ♦ Identification of the target process and problem we are looking to resolve
  • ♦ set the scope for the event
  • ♦ identify a cross functional team
  • ♦ identify resources that will possibly be required including budget
  • ♦ appoint a facilitator (internal or external)
  • ♦ determine measurement of KPI’s
  • ♦ complete data analysis of pre-event KPI’s and or other related timings
  • ♦ creation of current state map*

Task 1

Before any improvement can be implemented it is extremely important that we understand the current state of the business and or process involved.  This would involve the creation of a Current State Map using Value Stream Mapping techniques. *During a Kaizen Event this activity will be carried out on Day 1 by the team, however, during an ACE this will be conducted by the BTA assigned expert during the Pre-Work phase.  Information relating to the scope of the project, data captured should be shared with the team and once agreement has been reached that what has been captured reflects reality, we can then look to identifying improvement opportunities and defining the future state.

Task 2

The second phase is all about brainstorming solutions and reaching agreement on changes to implement.  The team who work the process will typically have lots of ideas on what they would change, however it is the role of the facilitator to identify the waste if the team do not have those skills and to coach the team into getting to root cause of problems rather than implementing containment measures to temporarily fix issues. ACE uses the expertise and experience of seasoned professionals to identify the solutions which are confirmed during interview and separate communication sessions with employees.  

As a facilitator of a Kaizen Event it is your role to ensure that everyone has their voices heard – no idea is a bad idea and creativity should be encouraged, after all if the team are involved in changing processes then there’s a good chance the changes will stick, it is after all difficult to resist your own ideas! During ACE improvement ideas are ‘sold’ to the team, however, their feedback and input is applied to modify those ideas - ‘the buy in’ before final agreement.   At this stage it is important that this agreement is reached by consensus.

In both cases you must remember to identify any resources that will be necessary to implement the changes the team have decided upon.  If these are over and above those identified at the pre-work stage then you may need to seek further approval prior to moving forward.

Task 3

At this stage we are implementing improvements that the team and the sponsor have agreed upon.  There may be a slight delay in getting some tasks completed but it is best to do something rather than do nothing, and in Continuous Improvement we are always looking to seek perfection.  During ACE, improvement tasks are prioritised in order to minimise disruption to operations.

Task 4

This stage is all about monitoring results and developing new Standard Work and supporting procedures once the improvements have been implemented. This once again is a task completed by BTA during an ACE assignment, thereby saving further time that the Kaizen Event would typically take to produce these documents. 

The metrics that were defined during the pre-work stage should be measured and tracked so that evaluation of the improvement can be assessed. Once satisfied, the new Standard Work document can be published and communicated, along with any necessary training requirements that should be addressed.

Task 5

At this stage we are ensuring that communication has been made to everyone who will be affected by the changes and that training has taken place in accordance with the updated standard work.  Sharing success of the results achieved with all personnel at all levels of the organisation which could include a write up in the newsletter, a mention in a team brief, memo on a notice board etc. all demonstrating that the business supports and buys in to the improvements made by the team. 

Lessons learned can be discussed and documented and standardisation across the facility of successful processes should now take place, leading towards the continuous improvement culture change required by the organisation.

Post Event

The work not only starts before the event it also continues after the event.  It is important to set regular reviews to assess the results achieved and to ensure that the process does not slip back to old ways of working.  This can be done by auditing the process using the Standard Work document to ensure the steps are being followed, and if they aren’t then you need to understand why?  What has changed since the event?  Are the changes as a result of the natural continuous improvement effort and do we need to update standard work to reflect the new best current method of working?  

This agenda is pretty standard, but these events were never meant to be complicated otherwise they would never have caught on.

 

 

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Published: 09 June 2020