8 Steps for a Continuous Improvement Event

Steps for a continuous improvement event and PDCA

Previously I mentioned that PDCA is a good tool to standardize the kaizen event. Today I will show you the general steps to do a kaizen event and how to use PDCA. There are 8 steps for a continuous improvement event plan and execution.

  1. Understand the problem
  2. Plan the event
  3. Learn about the current state
  4. Design and test the new process
  5. Validate the results against objectives
  6. Modify the process if necessary
  7. Once we achieved results, standardize, train, and communicate
  8. Make further improvements, start over.

Plan the Event

We learn before that the planning step is critical for problem-solving.  Certainly, it is because, during that step, you are defining the problem. In other words, you are studying the problem to understand in detail what is happening. This includes finding the root cause of the situation.  

In a continuous improvement or kaizen event, you start by understanding the problem or situation. Describe the current state as detailed as possible. Use the process name and its description, and the affected KPI’s for this description.

To plan the event, identify all the key information to make the event a success. This information includes the scope, objectives, expected deliverables, team members with their roles, event dates, and location.

Getting to know the current situation

The third step is to learn about the current state. It consists of drawing a picture of the process as is. For this, you need to know the process, the first and last step, steps sequence, and standards. You also need to know what are the customer’s needs. The golden rule to fix problems is to go where the value is created, observe, measure, and ask questions respectfully. Identify waste, where the flow stops, safety hazards or risks, and quality concerns. The most important part of the PDCA cycle is understanding the problem. While doing kaizen, it is critical to understand the process, including the root cause of the problems identified.

Create a new process and test if it works

Equipped with this information, you are ready to start designing the new process.  Brainstorm possible solutions with the team. The target is to eliminate waste, improve quality, or reduce the cycle time.  Prioritize and refine the list by selecting those ideas that are expected to have a bigger impact. The team should be able to complete the tasks during the allotted time frame.  

Test the ideas, simulating the conditions of the new process. Measure the results and note the effect of the new method. Analyze the results vs. the objectives, and validate if the process can achieve them. Modify the process if you need and keep testing and measuring as many times as it is necessary. This step represents another PDCA loop by itself.

Validate the new process

The kaizen step equivalent to Check is to validate the effectiveness of the new process.  The event is scheduled for one week or less, but sometimes you will have pending items that need to be finished later.  This step includes follow-up on the completion of those items.  It also includes a revision of the results to determine if the kaizen achieved its objectives.  Normally, this follow-up process happens 30 days after the completion of the event.  Similar to what happens in the previous step, if the new process falls short of the objectives, you follow PDCA to modify, measure, and adapt until the desired condition is reached.

Steps for a continuous improvement event – The last one, reflect upon the results

The last step in the kaizen event is to evaluate the performance of the process.  Process monitoring should be part of the daily operation as well as discussion of gaps between standards and current results.  Daily kaizen should address problems in quality, safety, or delivery performance.  Remember, once the improved standard is stabilized, it is time to start the improvement process again.

10 Rules to practicing continuous improvement

While doing kaizen, obviously you are seeking to improve a process, but if you are focusing on the results, your heart is in the wrong place.  Continuous Improvement heart is the people; therefore, you should focus on their learning experience rather than the savings or productivity gain.  What are the ground rules for practicing continuous improvement?

Ground rules for practicing continuous improvement

When I facilitate kaizen events, I like to be clear about the expectations.  A number of those expectations are directed to leadership because, as stated before, they need to learn and model the new behaviors.  Kaizen is a learning activity, where curiosity, creativity, and the desire to learn and do new things are the main ingredients for success.  The following are ten ground rules for practicing continuous improvement.

  1. Practice Respect at all times, respect the people and their ideas, one person speaking at a time, listen to what others have to say, be on time, no finger-pointing, there are no bad ideas.
  2. Tune your mind to a new channel:  Lean Thinking.
  3. Keep an open mind, be curious, ask Why, What if, How could we?
  4. Challenge the status quo, ask Why five times, and find the root cause.
  5. No excuses!  Think Yes, we can do it if _____.
  6. Look for low-cost, rapid, and simple solutions. 
  7. It is ok (and encouraged) to disagree, but it is not ok to be disrespectful.
  8. The meeting room is a safe zone where there are no titles, all ideas and opinions have the same value, and it is ok, to be honest.  
  9. Correct what you see wrong, but there is no need to be perfect!
  10. Win or learn, here you do not lose!

Additional key notes

These rules exist to ensure the right environment to encourage participation exists.  Kaizen is not classroom training; it is learning by doing.  Create the environment to drive fear out of the door and let in creativity and curiosity.  Every team member deserves to have the opportunity to learn and be part of the activities that will change their work environment and processes. 

Kaizen and Employee Involvement.

The three pillars of kaizen, standardization, 5S, and elimination of waste, are critical to achieving the goals. These activities are successful only if the foundation, employee involvement is robust. The employee involvement activities are teamwork, self-discipline, moral enhancement, improvement suggestions, and quality circles. From them, the last two provide information on how active employees are in continuous improvement activities.

Suggestion Programs to increase employee involvement

The purpose of this system is to motivate the employees to provide as many suggestions as possible.  One of the management’s responsibilities is to share with their teams the company goals. Another responsibility is to educate them on how their daily work connects to those goals.  If they accomplish those tasks, the team will understand how they can support those goals. Therefore, they will suggest things aligned with those objectives. 

The suggestion program should be easy to participate in, have clear rules and standards. Forms containing all the required information and acceptance criteria are an example. Also, other ways to facilitate participation are guidelines for prioritization and how to provide feedback. Other areas to cover with simple procedures are ways to motivate participation, decision-making, program promotion, and recognition.

Quality Circles

Quality circles are activities designed to address quality, safety, cost, and productivity issues. They are informal and formed by voluntary small-groups. You know your employees are engaged in continuous improvement when they suggest solutions. Another hint comes when they ask to meet with other teammates to work on an idea.

The idea can be part of the possible countermeasures of kaizen in progress. Another possibility is a simple checklist to minimize errors or to create visual marks to improve a process. Management support for these groups is vital. They can help to remove obstacles and facilitate resources and training. Also, they oversee what is going on to ensure meeting policies and critical criteria.

The temperature of employee involvement

These systems or activities are excellent ways to take the temperature of the continuous improvement effort.  The more participation, the more active and engage the employees are.  They are also excellent vehicles to boost the employee’s morale, which is another daily activity to ensure kaizen success.  It is very important to practice respect for the people, respect their ideas, and always provide feedback.  The main idea behind all these is to develop your people, to provide the environment to explore, learn, and change.

8 Steps for a Continuous Improvement Event

Steps for a continuous improvement event and PDCA

Previously I mentioned that PDCA is a good tool to standardize the kaizen event. Today I will show you the general steps to do a kaizen event and how to use PDCA. There are 8 steps for a continuous improvement event plan and execution.

  1. Understand the problem
  2. Plan the event
  3. Learn about the current state
  4. Design and test the new process
  5. Validate the results against objectives
  6. Modify the process if necessary
  7. Once we achieved results, standardize, train, and communicate
  8. Make further improvements, start over.

Plan the Event

We learn before that the planning step is critical for problem-solving.  Certainly, it is because, during that step, you are defining the problem. In other words, you are studying the problem to understand in detail what is happening. This includes finding the root cause of the situation.  

In a continuous improvement or kaizen event, you start by understanding the problem or situation. Describe the current state as detailed as possible. Use the process name and its description, and the affected KPI’s for this description.

To plan the event, identify all the key information to make the event a success. This information includes the scope, objectives, expected deliverables, team members with their roles, event dates, and location.

Getting to know the current situation

The third step is to learn about the current state. It consists of drawing a picture of the process as is. For this, you need to know the process, the first and last step, steps sequence, and standards. You also need to know what are the customer’s needs. The golden rule to fix problems is to go where the value is created, observe, measure, and ask questions respectfully. Identify waste, where the flow stops, safety hazards or risks, and quality concerns. The most important part of the PDCA cycle is understanding the problem. While doing kaizen, it is critical to understand the process, including the root cause of the problems identified.

Create a new process and test if it works

Equipped with this information, you are ready to start designing the new process.  Brainstorm possible solutions with the team. The target is to eliminate waste, improve quality, or reduce the cycle time.  Prioritize and refine the list by selecting those ideas that are expected to have a bigger impact. The team should be able to complete the tasks during the allotted time frame.  

Test the ideas, simulating the conditions of the new process. Measure the results and note the effect of the new method. Analyze the results vs. the objectives, and validate if the process can achieve them. Modify the process if you need and keep testing and measuring as many times as it is necessary. This step represents another PDCA loop by itself.

Validate the new process

The kaizen step equivalent to Check is to validate the effectiveness of the new process.  The event is scheduled for one week or less, but sometimes you will have pending items that need to be finished later.  This step includes follow-up on the completion of those items.  It also includes a revision of the results to determine if the kaizen achieved its objectives.  Normally, this follow-up process happens 30 days after the completion of the event.  Similar to what happens in the previous step, if the new process falls short of the objectives, you follow PDCA to modify, measure, and adapt until the desired condition is reached.

Steps for a continuous improvement event – The last one, reflect upon the results

The last step in the kaizen event is to evaluate the performance of the process.  Process monitoring should be part of the daily operation as well as discussion of gaps between standards and current results.  Daily kaizen should address problems in quality, safety, or delivery performance.  Remember, once the improved standard is stabilized, it is time to start the improvement process again.

What is Kaizen? What is a Kaizen Event?

Continuous improvement (CI) or Kaizen is the daily practice of creating small changes using low-cost common-sense solutions.  In my post, Take Baby Steps for Continuous Improvement, there is a little history of how Kaizen was born.  Continuous improvement involves everyone in the organization, improving processes everywhere, every day.   

Since the goal of lean is to deliver to the customer the highest quality, at the shortest lead time, at the lowest possible cost, kaizen focus is quality, cost, and delivery.  Kaizen’s major activities are 5S, standardization, and waste elimination.  Daily execution of these three activities drives incremental improvement that brings dramatic results over time.

Daily CI is important to tackle small problems before they become big ones.  The inspiration for daily kaizen comes from observation of frequent deviations from the standard, or ideas to improve the process.  However, sometimes we have challenges that require a more methodical approach.  When that happens, a Kaizen event comes to the rescue.  Recurrent problems that affect productivity or KPI performance are a good candidate for an event.  

A CI or Kaizen event is focused on one problem or improvement idea at a time.  The goal is to accomplish dramatic improvements in 2-7 days period.  These are rapid events, short, and based on common-sense solutions with very low or no-cost at all.  The understanding of the problem, and kaizen planning are critical for success.  It is also important to standardize the way of performing kaizen, everybody should follow the same steps and document the execution of those steps in the same way.  A good method to ensure the problem-solving activity is standardize is using PDCA.

When it is done correctly, kaizen not only improve quality, cost, and delivery.  It also helps the heart of the lean system, the people.  It does so by eliminating safety hazards, simplifying processes, and teaching people how to identify opportunities, and improve their processes.  In my next post, I will discuss the general steps to perform a kaizen event.