In order for a manufacturer to stay profitable and competitive in today’s industry landscape, its management team must be working towards continuous improvement, or Kaizen. This idea of Kaizen is an umbrella for a lot of lean strategies that work to improve all processes. Some approaches include 5S, Just-in-Time, and Value Stream Mapping.
Choosing the most appropriate strategy is just a small piece of the puzzle. Once you have an idea what you want to implement, executing the process can feel overwhelming. When you know you need to make improvements, but you aren’t sure how to get everything done or how to structure it, you may want to set up Kaizen events to break the project up into more manageable pieces.
“Kaizen events” is a term that means the same as a Kaizen Blitz, Kaizen Burst, Continuous Improvement Workshop, or a Focused Improvement workshop. They are week-long events that bring together a facilitator and employees to achieve a lean goal. You can break up the events by areas in the process under one strategy (e.g. applying 5S in production one week, and to service another week, etc.) or you can apply separate strategies to the whole process for each event (e.g. Do a Value Stream Map of the entire operation one week and then TPM Kaizen another week, etc.) Do what makes sense for your business.
There are a few valuable things to remember about running Kaizen events. Knowing these things ahead of time will help you to execute the most productive activities possible and avoid unnecessary challenges.
- Educate. In order for everyone to both understand and follow through with this process, you need to communicate to staff at every level what you are doing and why. Explain what continuous improvement is and what its benefits are. Detail what kinds of changes might take place, and reassure the employees that process improvements won’t put anyone out of a job. For example, if you can automate or eliminate tasks, that will just free people up to focus on other things, not make them obsolete. Additionally, make sure everyone understands the importance of their own participation. If people don’t buy in or follow through, your whole plan will fall flat.
- Use an experienced facilitator. If you don’t have a designated employee who has experience running a Kaizen event, you can train one along the way. However, it is really important to bring in someone who has done this before. You will avoid a lot of confusion and missteps by choosing a leader who knows what he or she is doing. This is particularly beneficial during your first events when some employees may not be completely on board. An expert can offer stories and real evidence of the time, money, and effort that is spared because of the improvements. Additionally, using an expert brings credibility to this process and proves to employees how beneficial you really expect it to be.
- Plan ahead what you can. The less the facilitator has to figure out, the less are your chances of employees standing around doing nothing because they haven’t been given direction yet.
Kaizen events have been known to improve efficiencies by between 20% and 100% when done correctly. This can only happen, however, if you have everyone on board, use an experienced leader, and communicate appropriately to your teams. The more meticulously you plan ahead, the more success you will enjoy.
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