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. 

What is a system?

A system is a set of principles or procedures working together to achieve a defined goal. Continuous improvement or Lean is a business management system designed to create customer value with fewer resources. Each part of the system has a purpose or objective. Many times only one or two lean principles are implemented, but not the system. Perhaps that is the reason why the expected results are not obtained.

The goal of lean or continuous improvement is to provide the customer with the highest quality, at the lowest cost, in a shorter time. The foundation of the system is stability and standardization. The pillars to achieve that goal are delivery time and quality. The heart is involvement, highly flexible, and motivated team members that are always improving.
Each program or principle connects with one of those components. For example, 5S and standardize work are critical for process stability. Continuous flow is one of the activities to achieve shorter delivery times.

How do we take care of the system’s heart? One of the most important principles of lean is respect. It is important to treat our team members as human beings and not a commodity. We show respect by taking the time to develop their skills and helping them to be successful. Create opportunities to learn using lean tools and encourage them to improve their work. Employee participation in improvement activities is a way to increase engagement. It gives them a chance to win achieving success in their efforts to create simple and safer processes.

Little by little, I will continue to share other activities or tools connected with the goal, foundation, pillars, and heart of the Lean System. Continuous improvement is not a supermarket of tools to pick and choose those you like more. You don’t need to use all the tools available, but you have to support all the system components. What makes Lean good is not the effectiveness of individual tools, but the synergy between them to achieve the goal.