Join Steven Brown for an in-depth discussion in this video Continuous improvement, part of Lean Six Sigma Foundations.
- "If you're not getting better, you're getting worse." Pretty good advice from Pat Riley, the famous basketball coach. You simply cannot stand still because your competitors are continuously getting better and passing you by. You also must continuously improve, the business world knows this too. Most of us work in a continuous improvement environment and use Lean principles to some extent. Every Lean tool is intended to enable improvement in the process to the reduction of waste and wasteful activities.
The Lean expression is Kaizen, a Japanese word that means gradual and orderly continuous improvement. Kaizen is intended to be used in all business activities. Not just in the production area, but also in services, administration, safety, transportation, new product development and literally every part of the organization. So, any effort to improve any part of your business is technically a Kaizen event.
With a Kaizen philosophy, you're not trying to make the process perfect; you are simply trying to make it a little better. The principals of Kaizen are intended to be part of everyone's daily work. There are specific improvement projects of course but continuous improvement should be part of the company philosophy and guide the way we work. As such, there are three very important aspects of a continuous improvement approach. The first is operating practices and procedures.
Company programs guide daily work so they also can reveal opportunities for improvement. For example, an on time delivery program quickly reveals inefficient and weak processes just as a quality program reveals weaknesses in measurement and metrics. Another important aspect is total involvement, everyone in the company strives for improvement. Top management provides the support to encourage improvement programs. Managers and supervisors direct their efforts more towards improvement than supervision.
Workers participate in suggestion programs and improvement teams. You must also consider training. Self development programs are encouraged, classes teach problem solving skills at all levels of the company. Everyone is seeking to enhance their job performance level. Needless to say, moving into a continuous improvement mode is not a quick and easy thing. It takes time to change the organization's culture. Now, I mentioned that Kaizen is a gradual and steady approach to improvement looking for incrimental changes, but sometimes the business situation requires a little faster movement in the right direction.
This is where the Kaizen Blitz is used. If a performance issue or a quality problem comes up that must be solved quickly, we can apply the Kaizen Blitz approach. Say you have a sudden product recall due to a safety hazard or a health issue, you certainly have no time to waste in finding the cause of the problem and resolving all related issues. Kaizen Blitz teams are cross functional teams bringing in employees from all functional areas involved with the process or the problem.
They are expert enough to understand the problem and are empowered to make the changes required to implement a solution. This is an intense and rapid improvement process. The company provides all the people and resources needed for what is usually a very short time period. All team members are dedicated full time to the effort until a solution is implemented. The Kaizen Blitz approach has proven to be very effective in such emergency situations. As a final thought, it's important to recognize that continuous improvement is what connects Lean with Six Sigma.
Continuous improvement is found in the Kaizen approach of Lean and in the control phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC Methodology. In a continuous improvement business environment, Lean and Six Sigma can provide a much needed formal structure for the company's efforts. So, the question is not whether your company should use Lean or Six Sigma. The real question is how can you use both these approaches to continuously improve your processes and stay ahead of your competition.
Steven outlines the process stages in Six Sigma (define, measure, analyze, improve, and control), along with the Lean toolkit: the 5s principles, kanban (scheduling), downtime, poka-yoke (error proofing), and kaizen (continuous improvement). He also explains how leadership works within Lean Six Sigma, the principles of project execution, and how Lean Six Sigma is applied to the service sector and supply chain management. Make sure to watch the "Next steps" video at the end of the course for further resources.
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- Why Lean Six Sigma?
- Understanding the five steps of Six Sigma
- Understanding the 5 Ss of Lean
- Leading a Lean Six Sigma project
- Controlling a Lean Six Sigma project
- Using Lean Six Sigma for services and supply chain management