CI 101, CI Tools

What are the three pillars of Kaizen?

Kaizen or continuous improvement is the daily practice of creating small changes using low-cost common-sense solutions.  Kaizen’s pillars or major activities are 5S, standardization, and waste elimination.

Where there is no standard, there can be no improvement.  For these reasons, standards are the basis for both maintenance and improvement

Misaaki Imai

Housekeeping and 5S are basic activities for any continuous improvement effort.  Employees acquire self-discipline by practicing 5S daily.  Without discipline, it is impossible to sustain a continuous improvement culture.  The 5S purpose is to create a visual workplace.  The objective is to make problems visible, which is quite uncomfortable.  It is normal to try to hide problems to avoid undesired questions from the boss or dealing with them.  5S and visual management make the out-of-standard situation easy to recognize, and employees can easily correct it.

When we fail to achieve the expected results, it is because the process fails.  Many times, it fails because there is no standard.  Each individual has a way to do things.  Standard work is the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to execute a particular task.  Standardization is the practice of setting, communicating, following, and improving standards and standard work.  The best way to achieve consistent results and minimize mistakes is to follow the standard work.  

To improve the results, we have to improve the process.  But we need to have standards in place before we try to improve it.  That is why standardization is one of the earlier steps on the lean journey.  Visual management is a way to standardize, it helps to recognize defects, inventory, waiting times, and other types of waste.  Waste elimination is a cost-effective way to improve processes and reduce operating costs.

The first steps on the lean journey are to stabilize the process, create standards, and visual management.  Process stabilization is achieved by practicing 5S and waste identification.  Standards produce a clear image of the desired condition.  You cannot fix what you don’t see. By making conditions out of standard visible, 5S, standards, and waste elimination are the pillars of kaizen or continuous improvement.

CI 101

Standardization and problems, how to create standard work to reduce problems?

In continuous improvement, we define a problem as a deviation from the standard.  That is a difference between what should be happening and what is actually happening.  That gap is a problem.  Standardization is the practice of setting, communicating, following, and improving standards and standard work.

But what happens when there are no standards?  How do you know that you have a problem?  Normally you know because a situation that does not feel right is jumping at you, other times those situations are screaming at you.  Those screams are usually in the form of complaints, delays, errors, or performance variation.  How do you choose where to start?

There are different prioritization criteria that you can use to determine what process you will tackle first.  You can choose the process based on volume, the effect it has on the problem you are looking at, or how much influence it has over the cost of operation.  If you never create a standard before, my advice is to start with a small process.  This will give you the chance to learn the basics before digging into a bigger problem.

The development of a standard begins with the problem we are trying to solve.  What is the target condition?  What should be happening?  What can you do to ensure you met the target condition every time?  Do not try to set your current process as the standard, if you have problems it is obvious that the current process needs improvements.  That is why you need to understand the current situation, find the root cause of the problems, and improve the current process before creating standard work.  In general, the following are the steps to create standard work.

  1. Understand the process, break down the job & question every detail
  2. Develop a new method for performing the job
  3. Run the process and observe results
  4. If it is necessary, adapt the process and go back to step 4.
  5. When you find the best method, create the standard

Standard work does not make any good if it is not communicated.  For that reason, training is the next logical step.  While creating the standard, engage the help of some members of the team.  They have the knowledge and experience that will facilitate the creation of the standard.  Also, this would be a teaching opportunity to develop their skills.  Train supervisors, team leaders, and other members of the team.  Use visual management if it is possible and have the standard work available for reference.

Now that you have standard work for that process, identify the next process, and keep improving.  Standard work is the foundation for improvements, they provide the baseline to process improvements.  Once established, stabilized it, and improve it!