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Hitting the Refresh Button

I think this may be the first time I’ve posted a video without it being an aside to my comments.  But lately, I can’t seem to get this out of my head.  As I view part of what I do as sharing inspiration, that’s exactly what I hope to do.  I must have watched this a dozen times in the last couple days alone just trying to really ingrain the message in my head.  I know it’s been around on the Tube for a couple years, but it never ceases to be great.

(As you can probably see, this clip originated from the Kaizen Institute and is not mine.  I just really like it and wanted to share the awesomeness of it.)

My Kaizen Day

I have spent a lot of time here discussing data.  I have covered in and around topics like data integrity, data quality, data interpretation, and even motivations behind data.   I am pretty passionate about making decisions based on high quality data.  But, sometimes you just don’t have data that you can trust.  Maybe it’s from the measurement system or some other human bias, maybe it’s just too poorly compiled to do anything with.  That usually leaves you with 3 choices:  Do nothing, Get Better Data, or Do Something.

Today, my M.O. is to DO SOMETHING.  It may sound obvious, but I’m going to spend time today focusing on making a change in a process instead of focusing on what I should be looking at.  It may mean I’ll work on something that I later realize is the 5th or 7th most important topic, but at least I’ll knock that off the list as I’m trying to figure out what should be the number 1 priority.

I think there is a lot of gray area between “Analysis Paralysis” and “Shooting From The Hip”.  Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, it’s really easy to get lost there.   Today I’m going to lend more to the latter than the former and learn something new along the way.   Hope you find some improvement on your way today.

Curse Those Stinkin’ Laptops

I will be the first to admit that I love my laptop.  At home or at work, I don’t think I could go back to a desktop as my normal computer.  The portability and ease of use is great.  In fact, I am typing this blog post on my work laptop now…shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone.

David Castillo Dominici /

As a user, I love my laptop.  As a facilitator, I hate the invention of the laptop.  They creep into kaizen events time after time and cause numerous distractions.  One suggestion that comes up to help with this situation is to make it a rule that no laptops are allowed or they are to be closed during work time but during breaks they can be opened to check on things.  I agree.  This a rule that I discuss at the start of every kaizen event.  It is a start but the laptops creep out day after day.

I started making sure there were breakout groups (see post here) scheduled to help keep people involved in the discussions and the laptops shut.  That works sometimes but the laptops keep coming like a bad dream.

I have reminded individuals during breaks about the rule of keeping laptops shut.  It works for awhile.  Then the laptops creep back out.  I have tried everything I can think of except putting a laptop drop off by the door so they aren’t anywhere near people.

Am I the only one having this trouble?  Is it a problem that I should really care about?

I know in  today’s world, connectivity is king.  If it isn’t the laptop, it is the smartphone.  I understand that everyone is busy also.  I am not old and can remember the days of not having any laptops or smartphones.  Kaizen events and meetings meant we were disconnected for that time. How do we capture that same feeling and spirit again?


Importance of Kaizen Event Follow Up

An often glossed over part of a kaizen/improvement event is the follow up after the event.  Why is this?

Part of the reason is the plethora of information available on how to run a kaizen/improvement event.  I have even written blogs (here and here) about executing an event.  It is easy for people to focus on, because it’s a big deal to get so many people from cross functional areas in one room for a long period of time.  Facilitators want to make sure it is a valuable use of the people’s time and not wasted sitting around.  This is a reasonable expectation.

However, coming out of a kaizen/improvement event there usually are a few action items to still be completed.  If these are not completed, the full value of the event won’t be reached.  The event would have wasted some of the participant’s time.  This is a hidden waste.  The participants are busy during and after the event with work they are completing at the time.  If the full value of the event isn’t reached, it isn’t seen by everyone.  It is pretty obvious if people are sitting idle in a conference room.  It is frustrating to the participants as well.

renjith krishnan /

The 30, 60, 90 day follow up is an important tool to help ensure none of the time participants’ time is wasted.

The 30, 60, 90 day follow up is used to drive accountability to complete the action items and verify the results are moving in the desired direction.  The follow up is valuable time to reflect on what is working so far and what is not.  The team can make adjustments if necessary and drive to the results that are desired.

The event is draining and hard work, but the real work begins once the team leaves the kaizen/improvement event and embarks on implementing their new process.

The hype is around the the event itself, but don’t forget the follow up or you may be wasting people’s time.

Breakout Groups During Improvement Events

A common tool in the lean world is the kaizen event.  This is where a cross functional team meets for 3-5 days all day to improve a process.

The days are long, not only for the participants but also for the facilitator(s).  Participants hate sitting around a conference room for multiple days straight.  It is difficult to concentrate and people become bored quickly.  It is hard for facilitators to keep the energy up during this time also.

This is where breakout groups come in handy.  Using breakout groups gets everyone engaged and can get the team up and moving around.  If there are participants who don’t like to speak to a bigger audience, the smaller groups give them a chance to give input without feeling uncomfortable.  Also, it can give the facilitator time to gather their thoughts and re-energize during the session.

Breakout groups can be used in different ways.  For an event focused around a business or transactional process that is hard to see, a rotating chart can be a good option.  Have everyone write their improvement ideas on a post-it note.  One idea per post-it note.  Give the team a few minutes to write them down.  Then have each person come to the front, read their idea and stick the post-it on paper hanging on the wall.  Group the post-its by similar ideas from individuals.  After you have all the ideas, split the large group into smaller teams and give each team an equal number of ideas to discuss.  Use a flip chart.  Have one idea per flip chart page.  List the idea at the top and then write the benefits on the left side and the challenges to the idea on the right side of the chart.  When all the teams are done, have them rotate to read what the other group wrote and write any additional thoughts they have on the idea.

This is just one way to get people up and more engaged.

If the improvement event is in a manufacturing area, a typical breakout group is going out and actually moving the work area around to the improved design.  Simple, effective and the process is ready to run right after the event is over.

It is important to balance working as a group and breaking out into smaller groups.  When done well, it energizes the group and the facilitator and allows everyone a chance to give input no matter what their communication style is.

Create Superheroes Through a Strong Process

It is amazing to me the amount of confidence a person can have of producing a successful outcome when they are supported by a strong process.

“A bad process beats good people” is a quote I picked up from Jamie Flinchbaugh and Any Carlino.

The point of the quote is to stress that even good people will fail within a bad process so design the process so it will repeatedly deliver good results.

Let’s look at the same thing but in a different way.

“A strong process turns good people into superheroes!”

When a strong, repeatable process is designed and followed it will instill confidence of the people using the process.  The more the people use the process and the more they see successful results the more confidence is built.  The person looks like a superhero because they are delivering on results time after time.  Confidence can build to a point of almost arrogance because they know they can deliver the results wanted if they follow the process.

This is true of kaizen events and problem solving as well as day-to-day work execution processes.

This does not mean a strong process can’t be improved because you can always make it stronger, but understand if you have a strong process and use it to your advantage.

Turn yourself into a superhero as well as others around you by developing a strong process for something you do and following it.

Game Changing Improvements Hard to Discuss

Kaizen events are multi-day improvement activities aimed at creating change to a process.  During the event, the improvement team understands the current state, defines an ideal state and then develops a plan to create change headed in the direction of the ideal state.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Most teams don’t have any trouble discussing the ideal state.  The team can state the ideal state of a process but don’t necessarily believe they will get there anytime soon.

The hard part comes when discussing how the improvements they can make happen will change the process. Too many times I have seen groups scale back the improvement ideas.  They try to just change a few things within the current process.  The team has a hard time making bigger changes, even if it is just a recommendation.  In organizations where lean is not prevalent and traditional management behaviors have created silos and squashed improvement ideas from the employees, the employees do not believe the bigger changes they want will be put into action.

There can be time during the event spent convincing the team it is the right thing to recommend the bigger changes even if they think the leadership will not accept the changes.  It is about painting a picture.  The team has to walk the leadership through the current state and have them understand where they are.  Then paint a vivid picture of the ideal state.  More times than not I have seen the intermediate future state accepted by leadership when a vivid picture is painted and current and future state maps are made to make the process come alive.

Improvement teams cannot be afraid to recommend what they believe is truly the best option.  If the team feels strongly the leadership will not like it, then there is nothing wrong with having a Plan B.  But, never start with Plan B until you have tried everything to get Plan A bough into.

Learning A3

I am always looking for inspiration to improve myself, my work and my processes.  A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine caused a bright light bulb to go off.  The colleague mentioned developing an A3 to show the progress of learning for the people I am teaching and coaching.

Simple right.

A3s are used for solving problems, developing proposals and everything else.  Why not for laying out a plan to show what people are expected to learn during a project or coaching session.  Layout a standard or plan so expectations and progress becomes visible.

My colleague provided me with a format to go about developing an A3 for the learning to transfer to the person being taught.  Right away it made my thoughts clearer.  It allowed me to communicate easier what I was hoping the person would learn over the next year and how I expected to get them there. We were able to have a good discussion about expectations and a plan to get to the target.  Now we have something to use as a guide when we meet.  The plan also helps me ask better questions when we meet.

I plan on doing more and more learning A3s.  It is something I can also use before a kaizen event.  Layout what I would like the team to learn while improving the business.  There is no better way to learn then teach something and apply it right away on something that is a problem for you and then reflect.  A kaizen event is setup to do that perfectly.

A3s….it’s not just for business problems.

Importance of Sponsorship

One of the most common tools used in lean is the kaizen event.  This is where a group of people supporting a process, as well as the customers and suppliers of the process, are sequestered for 3-5 days to improve the process.  There is a facilitator that leads the team members through the improvement process.

There are many important aspects of a kaizen event that have to be done correctly to make it as successful as possible.  The most important of part of preparing for a kaizen event is making sure you get the correct sponsorship.  It does not matter how much you improve the process, without the right sponsorship the implementation plan and sustainment can fail miserably.

There are two types of sponsorship that I usually work with: executive and primary.

Executive Sponsorship is usually a senior level leader or leaders.  Usually, a director level or higher but this may very depending on your organization.  The responsibilities of an executive sponsor is to:

  • Initiate and drive the case for change/improvement
  • Have the authority to approve the future state and implementation plan
  • Actively and visibly participate in the change
  • Promote the change with their subordinates
  • Partners and links with other Senior leader to ensure the change is approved & implemented across the entire process

Primary Sponsorship is usually a middle to senior level leader who is vested in the process.  These are sponsors that the kaizen event facilitator will work closely with to ensure it is successful.  The responsibilities of the primary sponsor is to:

  • Implement the future state within the stated time frames
  • Actively and visibly participate in the change
  • Promote the change with their subordinates
  • Authorize the change
  • Provide resources to enable and support the change
  • Link with other middle and senior level managers to ensure the change is approved & implemented

Sponsorship of the kaizen event is critical in order to gain buy-in and help sustain the improvements made by the team.  So be sure you have the sponsors’ buy-in to support the kaizen event and the changes that come out of it.


It’s…It’s…It’s a Kaizen Blitz

While looking for material about a kaizen event on the internet I found this great video on YouTube.  It is a song about a kaizen blitz (event) set to the music of Ballroom Blitz by Sweet.

If you have ever been a part of a kaizen event (or blitz), I bet a lot of this really hit home.  The guy did a great job of catching all aspects of the kaizen in a very funny way.  I plan on showing this to the kaizen teams I lead in the future at a point where a break in the tension is needed.