Kaizen and the Philosophy of Continuous Improvement in Change Management

Kaizen Continuous Improvement

Effective change management involves not just imposing a new process on a team but engaging them with a new way of thinking, that makes ongoing process improvement the norm. One of the frameworks used to embed this new philosophy within the psyche of an organization is the PDCA framework often termed (in Six Sigma-speak) Kaizen. PDCA is a methodical approach to problem-solving and continuous improvement.

The plan comprises four stages: Plan, Do, Check, and Act (PDCA) and is further subdivided into 12 steps:

1. Select Project
2. Explain Reason
3. Set Goals
4. Prepare Action Plan
5. Gather the data
6. Analyse the facts
7. Develop Solutions
8. Test Solutions
9. Ensure Goals are satisfied
10. Implement Solution
11. Monitor Solution
12. Continuous Improvement

A common but unproductive way of operating within organizations relies on damage limitation to extinguish metaphorical fires. Further, it is often unfocused, operates ineffective solution finding and has no incorporated system for measuring levels of success.

Kaizen seeks to improve on this common approach by:

• Adopting a structured approach to defining the problem
• Making planning time a priority
• Enlisting best-fit people to oversee the challenge
• Testing and monitoring for a fully optimized system.

The structured Kaizen approach kicks off with project selection. Here, the change agent must be able to recognize the signs that indicate that standards are below par. A problem statement must then be crafted which is objective and states the facts in isolation without, at this stage, attempting to solution finding.

SMART goals are then set to bring about the desired transformation. A SMART goal, for example, might be to decrease the number of errors on a production line from 80% to 95% within 2 months.

After goal setting, the process operator is facilitated to craft an action plan incorporating the goals. In doing this, the operator is coached in order to clarify their own understanding of the raison d’être of the project. Clarification of who needs to be involved, what data needs to be harvested, timescales for each step and how feedback for the task will be delivered is also facilitated through coaching. This personal responsibility for crafting the plan aims to give the operator a sense of ownership and greater engagement with the project.

The next step will be to initiate the project and start collecting data. Data can be collected from shop floor visits, interviews, customer returns data, risk assessments, check sheets, or machine histories. It’s important to use the correct tools to define the problem, otherwise, data cannot be collected in a form relevant to appropriate solution finding. Collected data can be represented as check sheets, histograms or scatter diagrams, control charts, flowcharts, cause and effect analysis or Pareto analysis.

Once the data is collected and analyzed group brainstorming is used to elicit possible root causes of the problem. These are then prioritized and analyzed using a method that asks the question why 5 times. The ultimate aim of the procedure is to develop a countermeasure which is a permanent solution that prevents the problem from reappearing.

Countermeasures that have been developed must be prioritized and tested out. The success of any countermeasure is regarded as being proportional to the extent to which future goals have been achieved. If the goals have been met then the countermeasure is adopted. If they have not then further experimentation with new countermeasures will be necessary. Countermeasures which have proved a success are adopted as standard procedure and training needs around these countermeasures are, then, made a priority. At this stage, the team must be informed and operating sheets updated.

Once a countermeasure has been adopted measurements must be continued to see what further improvements can be made and the cycle is repeated to refine improvements. As such, the Kaizen cycle of continuous improvement is never-ending.

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