Kaizen Activities and Standardized Work: Key Components of Your Lean Journey

March 13, 2012
Embrace these tools for successful and sustained improvements.

If you are seeking a quick and successful lean implementation, forget it. Quite simply, lean implementations frequently are referred to as lean journeys for good reason: They take time, and they are not always straightforward.

Certain actions, activities and tools can aid the lean effort, however. Two of those are standardized work and kaizen activities. Lean Concepts President John Veatch discussed the two concepts as part of a larger online presentation about lean for small to midsize businesses.

Standardized work, he explained, is the establishment of precise procedures for each operators work in a production process. Once established and displayed at the appropriate work station, standardized work presents multiple benefits. It documents the current process, it reduces variability for all shifts and it eases training of new operators.

Veatch outlined the three components of standard work, and provided examples of standardized work tools such as process-capacity and standard-work charts. The three components of standard work are:

  • Takt time, which is the rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand. It is not cycle time.
  • The work sequence operators perform within takt time.
  • The inventory required to keep the process operating smoothly. Veatch emphasized multiple times that lean is not about removing all inventory; it is about removing excess inventory.

Dont initiate a lean journey simply by slashing inventory, Veatch says. That action simply begets new problems. First, fix your problems, and then look to drive down excessive inventory.

Once standardized work has been established, he says, it becomes the object of continuous- improvement activities.

Eastern and Western Kaizen

The Lean Concepts president outlined two types of kaizen activities: Eastern and Western. Both pursue the same end goals -- improvements -- but they also have several differences. Smaller businesses with fewer employees than their larger counterparts may find the Eastern style a better fit.

A Western kaizen activity, also called workshop or blitz, is typically composed of eight to 12 team members and lasts five days (sometimes three days, depending on what you are trying to accomplish, Veatch says). The example he provided was a kaizen activity to create a continuous-flow cell in a week.

A Western kaizen team typically consists of people responsible for the process, people impacted by the process and members with no connection to the process. The latter, he says, can see the forest for the trees.

Kaizen activities must be planned, and its important that all members understand the objectives of the event.

By the way, he says if the team does not find at least one safety issue each day of the kaizen activity, then you arent looking.

In contrast to Western kaizen activities, the Eastern kaizen activity is composed of a three- to five-member team which may stay together for a year, identifying and implementing process improvements. Rather than concentrating efforts over a three- to five-day span, however, the team typically meets for 20 to 30 minutes, once a week.

While the Eastern kaizen activity performs the same processes as the Western, it goes after improvement in smaller bites over a longer period of time.

The advantages of Eastern kaizen activities, particularly for smaller enterprises, are that smaller teams take fewer people away from their work areas for shorter periods; implementation is done on a daily basis; and open-action-item lists are typically smaller due to the ongoing nature of the team, Veatch notes.

The Eastern kaizen activity may also help a company determine where it hashidden leadership, Veatch says.

The lean consultant provided an additional piece of advice about kaizen activities: Dont set a yearly goal of how many to complete. For example, dont say you are going to complete 50 kaizen activities this year. You might not need 50. You might need two, he says.

To view Veatchs complete presentation, go online to The Lean Implementation Journey: Next Steps for Small and Midsize Businesses.

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