The Beauty and Power of Continuous Improvement

By on April 5, 2016
Beauty and Power of Continuous Improvement

All of us have had days when the stars are all aligned and everything seems to go just perfectly. Recently, I had one of those days. I was facilitating a discussion on the elimination of waste as part of our Kaizen Thinking series at a major distribution center. Reflecting the meaning of the word “Kaizen,” change for the better, participants were reporting on waste that they had spotted since our last session. As the reporting started, the energy was palpable. Every participant had spotted very specific types of waste that were inhibiting work flow. Many had not only spotted waste but had also used that process called JDI (Just Do It) to eliminate the waste they had spotted. For example, with a simple reconfiguration of her workspace, one participant said she saved 3.9 miles a day of walk time. And there were other really great examples of waste spotting.

Seeing employees vigorously and enthusiastically focused on the elimination of waste is indeed to witness the beauty and power of continuous improvement. And it is this type of thinking and acting upon which a Lean transformation that is sustainable absolutely depends.

For many employees, to be continuously focused on ways to improve work processes through the elimination of waste is simply not part of the way they operate in the work place. Many are solely focused on maintaining things as they are despite overwhelming evidence showing that maintaining the status quo is a sure recipe for failure. We can all think of examples of what happens when continuous improvement ceases to be a key component of the organization’s DNA. To name just a few, Polaroid, Eastman Kodak, Sharper Image, Bethlehem Steel, Blockbuster, Sears. All of these companies succumbed to the hubris of the moment; they thought today would last forever. It never does.

Clearly, the future belongs to the agile. The future belongs to Kaizen Thinkers.

Kaizen Thinking drives a major shift in the way an organization’s employees think about change. As they experience success in “spotting waste” and, through the application of their individual creativity and knowledge, eliminate the waste they’ve spotted, they develop a sense of confidence and pride. They develop pride not only in their ability to navigate change but, more importantly, to be drivers of change.

And when this shift occurs, it’s a game changer. Bringing about this shift in the way employees think is one of the primary goals of Lean manufacturing and the major force behind the power of Lean.

The future belongs to those organization for whom continuous improvement—Kaizen Thinking—has become an integral component of their DNA.

Kaizen Thinking Participant Guide CoverIt was in response to the need for a training program that would stimulate Kaizen Thinking that we developed a series of eleven, one-hour discussions, focused on the elimination of waste through the development of Kaizen Thinking habits. The experience at the distribution center that I described represented for me a really outstanding example of what happens when Kaizen Thinking takes hold in an organization. However, I’ve seen similar reactions with a number of our clients. With client after client I’ve seen employees transformed from being sullen resistors of change to being confident participants in the change process.

And when this shift occurs, it is indeed a game changer.

If you’d like to find out more about our Kaizen Thinking series, you can call me anytime at 314-303-0612 and arrange a time to meet. I’m confident that you’ll find this time very well spent.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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