Kaizen won't get you there

    

Now don’t get me wrong. I am all in when it comes to continuous improvement – kaizen – the fact is it isn’t enough and most companies cannot possibly kaizen their way to excellence. Usually a few major things just need to be completely blown up and replaced, and there is nothing incremental, small or continuous about it.

Sometimes kaizen just won’t get the job done and kaikaku – radical, gut-wrenching upheaval – is the only option. I bring this up because it seems there are a few folks out there – mostly of the senior variety – who hide behind kaizen in an effort to avoid the wailing and gnashing of teeth that often accompanies kaikaku. While small, continuous improvement can be nearly painless (often folks don’t even notice the changes until long after the fact), there is nothing painless about kaikaku. There is no avoiding it, however; no hiding from the the need to do major, difficult work.

A couple of examples that quickly come to mind are the transitions from forecast, push, MRP-style production to demand pull and kanban; as well as booting standard costs out of the decision making process. It’s a lot like being dead or pregnant – either you are or you aren’t, and there isn’t any middle ground to continuously evolve through in going from one state to the other.

For that matter, most of the management transition to lean is of the kaikaku, radical transformation variety, while the deployment of lean tools on the shop floor tends to me more of the kaizen, small, incremental improvement type. Changing accounting systems, restructuring from silos to value streams, replacing annual budgets with monthly rolling SOFP processes, conjuring up an entirely new set of metrics … all pretty big deals. All of them require a firm, but delicate tough and all of them carry the risk of driving change-averse management folks out of the organization. But then a pretty good case can be made for this being the reason management folks make the big bucks – to drive big change; while shop floor folks make comparatively little bucks and are expected to drive little changes.

A pretty good case can be made, as well, for failure to do the kaikaku stuff being the biggest driver of lean failure, or at least sub-optimization. Easy enough to drive the shop floor folks to start making incremental, continuous improvements; but they don’t amount to much if management hasn’t taken on the tough stuff and created a framework for those little improvements to pay off.

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