Creating a Kaizen Culture

Creating a Kaizen Culture

This article was originally published on the Profession Concession Blog by the Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing.

Peter Miles, Technology Acceleration Manager at Genedge, recently led, “Creating a Kaizen Culture”, a training provided by SVAM and the SVAM Center of Excellence. The training covered:

  • Some of the key practices and methodologies that support the development of a Kaizen Culture.
  • How we can select specific approaches to handle different problems.
  • The most common causes of failure in process improvement initiatives and how to avoid them.

Below is a summary of the training. All notes were taken from Mr. Miles’ presentation. SVAM Members can view the full presentation here.

Why Process Improvement? Every company or organization provides a product or service to their customers. Customers will order from those companies that meet their expectations for better quality, lower price, and faster delivery. Process Improvement will help companies meet those three objectives. Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) is designed to help you meet your customer’s needs by achieving their expectations which builds a strong relationship. Since WWII many updates have been made in the Manufacturing Process Improvement from Training Within Industry, through Kaizen in both Japan and the USA to Lean Enterprise.

Lean…it’s all about speed. Lean’s outward focus is providing fast, responsive, and accurate delivery. Its inward focus is on eliminating or reducing waste in the process. These improvements are often executed using a Kaizen Event, which is typically a 3-5 day event. Lean is designed to attack wastes associated with defects, over production, waiting, non-utilized resources/talent, transportation, inventory, motion, and excess processing.


Origin of the Kaizen Event: The term Kaizen refers to Kaizen Events meant to improve or “lean out” processes. The 3-5 days approach was seen as the most efficient use of time, since most companies were paying Japanese Senseis to run the activity. It was re-introduced to American in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It is also known as a Rapid Improvement Event. It is an intense team effort to provide process improvement. There are “do-now” solutions through employee involvement and management must ensure availabilities for Kaizen execution. Over time the improvements become part of the job for all employees.

PDSA: Plan-Do-Study-Act is the traditional cycle used for Kaizen. The whole idea is to try a solution and test the results and repeat this process until satisfied with the result.

Project Management diagram - Act, Plan, Do, Study

Core Kaizen Lean Tools include:

  • Value Stream Mapping to understand the flow and performance of the process.
  • Value-Add Analysis to identify improvement opportunities.
  • Work flow to reduce non-value added transportation steps and improve communication.
  • Process balance to balance workload and increase throughput.
  • Pull systems to control WIP and stabilize process cycle time.

Special Purpose Lean Tools include:

  • 5S: Sort, set in order, shines, standardize, and sustain for workplace organization.
  • Rapid changeover for improved flexibility and responsiveness.
  • Mistake-proofing to eliminate rework.
  • Total Preventative Maintenance to prevent breakdowns and down-time.

The Development of Six Sigma: Six Sigma was developed by Mikel Harry and Bill Smith as a data driven approach based on two main concepts:

  1. DMAIC methodology – A structured problem solving application based on a five stage method:
    1. Define
    2. Measure
    3. Analyze
    4. Improve
    5. Control
  2. The reduction of variation to create a more consistent product.

Lean Six Sigma Integration: Maintains health of your process. Lean is like a wellness program. Six Sigma is like a cure for a medical problem.

CPI Execution Levels: Use the “right size” method for the problem you have.

  • Daily Kaizen, Two Second Lean, Waste Outs, Itches and Scratches, Quick Wins
  • Kaizen Event, A3’s and 8D activities
  • The Lean Six Sigma Project
  • Kaizen Support

Work Culture

  • Culture: Customs and beliefs of a particular group at a particular time.
  • Work Culture: Customs and beliefs of workforce and how they function in the workplace.

Establishing a work culture takes relentless execution of work tasks in a way consistent with beliefs and behaviors. This will only succeed if it is considered beneficial by those who will have to adopt them.

What is Kaizen Culture? Kaizen means “change for the good.” It is about enabling people to make better decisions to improve the work environment, achieving goals, and reaching the vision.

Connecting Kaizen Culture with Process Improvement: The culture is all about doing things better than before. Achieving real, ongoing process improvements is a key component to Kaizen Culture.

Core Kaizen Concepts:

  • We are all in this together. Everyone contributes.
  • Problems are the result of inadequate processes not individual human mistakes.

Brainstorming session

Kaizen Culture Behaviors

  • Humility – a willingness to be wrong.
  • Alignment – we are all in it together.
  • Security – an environment of openness and honesty.
  • Respect – acknowledge others and their contributions.
  • Service – acknowledge we’re here to serve the customer.
  • Process – a deep understanding of processes.
  • Urgency – move current issues.
  • Connection – connect across organization.
  • Consensus – reach decisions through discussion.
  • Sharing – share best practices.

Establishing a Kaizen Culture

  1. Nothing succeeds like success: In the early days of a CPI “start up” it is critical to achieve some success to establish credibility.
  2. Workplace organization: Ensure the work culture is organized; this will help identify opportunities for improvement and make it easier to implement them. The 5S method is the most common way of doing this.
  3. Recognize internal opportunities: Developing a workforce that can recognize the “eight wastes” in processes as opportunities for improvement.
  4. Recognizing external opportunities: Ideas for process improvements that come from the demands of management or the customer base.
  5. Daily Kaizen: Organic activity that allows decisions for change to be delegated to those who actually work the process.
  6. CPI Events: Start small, but start. Try a Kaizen Event with a clearly achievable, Lean based goal.
  7. Establish a CPI Deployment Approach: Establish formal procedures to ensure improvement in the most needed areas.
  8. Senior Management Involvement: Management must be seen as actively involved and CPI should be seen as a key corporate goal.
  9. A “Showcase” department: Focus CPI efforts in one department and as things improve it becomes a showcase.
  10. Applying a critical mass to projects: Ensure you bring a critical mass of resources to each project so it can be promptly completed.
  11. Avoid scope creep: Properly define boundaries of the project so that it doesn’t keep growing.
  12. Bias for action: Those who work on Process Improvements should have an understanding of their authority and feel empowered to act on it.
  13. The “horse is dead”: If a project has lost momentum either revitalize or kill it.
  14. Communications: Regular published updates on progress are key.
  15. Handling change: Create a Culture and Work Structure that can handle the changes that will result from Process Improvement.
  16. Acknowledge and celebrate success: It is key to show appreciation for all involved.
  17. The limitations of Process Improvement: Attempts to use PDSA or DMAIC in areas such as a new process or product should be avoided.
  18. Surviving transitions: If CPI deployment isn’t fully integrated it could come under close scrutiny by those unfamiliar with the benefits.

The Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing, Inc. is a non-profit organization focused on supporting and strengthening manufacturers currently in the region as well as welcoming new industry. SVAM accomplishes this in a unique way—by being governed by a Board of Directors made up of Southwest Virginia manufacturers. Programs and initiatives—many outlined in the newsletter below—are held to carry out SVAM’s strategic plan. Collaboration is a key part of SVAM as we work with educational institutions, workforce development boards, chambers of commerce, and state organizations to promote manufacturing support in our Southwest Virginia region. Our vision is to unite Southwest Virginia manufacturers to strengthen our position as a world-leading region of advanced manufacturing opportunities.

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