This week, we had another 2 Kaizen events in our company. As many of you know, we have been working on adopting lean into our company for the last couple of years. As this process has evolved, I thought it might be interesting to document my thinking so far. This has been the most interesting part of lean for me. Unlike most of the other subjects I have studied (music, programming, project management, etc…) this is not a linear progression. It is also not a simple subject. It is a combination of intellectual learning and hands-on experiments that continually evolves for me. If you asked me what my definition of lean was 6 months ago, it would be very different than what I would tell you today. No doubt, if I blog about this in the future, my thoughts will have morphed again. Here are some of my thoughts to date:
- Lean is top down. We started our lean journey in the management group. COO, CFO, Vice Presidents, Controller, Owner, Directors. We all began this journey together before we announced anything to the company. What would this look like? What does it mean to continually improve together? What do we need to know in order to teach this to our teams? We read books on the subject together, sharing our key points each week in our management meeting. We made improvement videos every week to learn the discipline of Kaizen. We took tours and met other lean leaders to get their input. We toured companies that we admired and that we wanted to emulate. We toured companies where the way they saw lean was very different from what we wanted to do. We toured companies that had started then failed. We learned from all of them. We sent two of our best employees off to get certified in lean. Was that a good path for us? Lots of exploration and study to really understand if this was something we could commit to 1000 percent.
- Lean is bottom up. We put everyone in a lean class. As we began our roll-out, we wanted to be sure our staff understood what we were trying to do. We taught the classes. We were the teachers and coaches for the whole company. We still are. I have 3 one hour classes that I teach every week. These classes were cross-functional. We were exposed to people from other departments (front desk, accounting, auto shop, project management, purchasing, engineering, shop, field). We were teaching people we don’t manage and meeting a ton of people we hardly ever work with.
- Lean is a team sport. Working together to fix things. Working together to solve problems and make things better. We have been doing two Kaizen events each month. Pick a problem, select a team, sequester them for one week, bring in a coach and work on that problem and see if you can create a better way. Again, very cross functional so you are working with a bunch of people you might only have a passing exposure to.
- Lean is visual. Get out of your computer. Put up a white board. Write down the plan for the day, write down how you are doing, write down your problems. Get the team around the board and talk it out. Make things better each day. Work as a team. Have the managers walk the floor and see the problems. Have the managers help solve them.
The bottom line, lean is about people. This road we are going down has started to really open up the communication between all parts of the company. It is starting to break down department walls and boundaries. I’m working along side people from all over the company, not just the people that work for me. We are creating solutions that will really impact and help our customers. It is exposing so many problems it is hard to get your head around it all. I feel like we are a great company but man, do we have a ton of things to work on. But we are acknowledging these and putting things in place to get closer to the company we want to be. All of our problems are coming down to the system we have put in place. It is never a “people” problem, it is always coming down to the crazy system we gave them to follow.
It was a great week this week. The report-outs yesterday confirm that people really appreciate having a voice and having their ideas heard and implemented. We reduced change-over on one machine this week from one hour to about 10 minutes based on an employee suggestion. We are creating strategies to solve other problems that have existed for years. Lean is hard, but when your whole team gets committed, it can be amazing.