Kaizen Train

Before you start a company-wide Kaizen, you may want to look at yourself and the collection of individuals that make up the organization. Below is three different views of how an individual applies themselves to their roles.

Last spring, Dr Balle and I had a conversation on Kaizen which resulted in an 8-week series of videos and a podcast. Below is a 34 page transcription of the discussion. I think you will find it entertaining and will provide a different way of viewing continuous improvement and Kaizen.

An excerpt from the transcription:

Joe: Michael, when you talk about Kaizen, you talk about Kaizen on an individual basis. Can you explain that?

Michael Balle: Absolutely. Kaizen is always individual. There’s a difference in perspective, and we’re very biased by our Taylorist pasts. Our understanding we usually have is that performance is the result of processes. We all buy that, and its fine. Our thinking is that if you hit each of these processes with an improvement project, and people call it Kaizen but it’s not, then the results should be improved performance.

Evidence over the past 20 years has shown that this is not the case. What you do have is quick hits. You can have some savings, or you have some low?hanging fruit, but you don’t have the improvement we’re looking for.

The other way of looking at this is that any process is just a collection of individuals. If each individual is better at their job, then collectively they will come up with a process that performs better and delivers in performance. I think this is the key to understanding. Kaizen is an individual activity to make you better at your job. This is something we see with Lean students.

After studying Lean for a while, you ask them the question, “Do you feel you’re mastering Lean better?” and they say, “Well, no. The system, it seems still as mysterious and deep and hard to master.” You ask them the second question, “Are you better at your jobs? Do you feel you’re better at your jobs?” They say, “No debate, Absolutely, yes.” They’re confident that they’re a lot better at their jobs. This is what Kaizen is about.

Kaizen is about improving you, Joe. By doing Kaizen, you will improve how you see your job and how you perform at your job. This will make you stop making some classic mistakes, for this will also make you discover innovative ways of doing your job.

As we all pull together with a deeper understanding of our jobs, we create processes that our competitors can never touch. In order to hold those better processes, each of us has to be better at our jobs.

Verna Allee, M.A., is Co-founder and CEO of Value Networks LLC, located at ValueNetworks.com. Verna was my guest on the Business901 Podcast, What’s behind Collaboration and Value Networks?. We discussed the history of knowledge management and how her work has evolved into value networks. Value Network philosophies also apply to Lean, Agile and into sales and marketing arena. I find this area fascinating as we rid ourselves of hierarchy, positions and titles and delve into that mysterious area of roles!

An excerpt from the transcript:

Verna: What we manage, very simply, are our own roles. So if we look at it from the perspective of “In my role, I manage my inputs and my outputs.” When we have a healthy value network, you look at any given role and the number of inputs and outputs are manageable. If it’s too much, you’ve got a problem. You’ve got a bottleneck; you need to redesign.

There’s some kind of a healthy ratio of tangibles and intangibles. When you look at your role, you should be able to say “Oh, that’s not so hard. I can do that.” If it is overwhelming when you look at it from where you stand in the network, then you probably have some redesigning to do. I always like to say the center of the network is where you are.

You may need to see that larger picture around you. You may need to be able to see out there at the far horizon of the network. But when it comes to practical everyday work, what we manage is simply our own roles. And when people model the network, they negotiate their roles and just what they understand. I don’t understand everything about how you play your role, but I can negotiate with you about how you and I interact.

In a past Business901 blog post, How do you handle inputs into your life?, I discussed the book A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance. I followed this up with a podcast featuring the author, Dan Markovitz, founder and owner of TimeBack Management. Timeback is a consultancy specializing in improving individual and organizational performance through the application of lean concepts.

This is an excerpt from the podcast:

Joe: If you really sit back and take a look at what you are doing or have to do, that you have much more control over the situation than you think. Applying the Pareto Principle, you have a lot of control?.

Dan: “I think often we do. I think oftentimes there is a lot more room for improvement than we realize. We just haven’t bothered looking. We just say, “Oh yeah, I get interrupted all the time.” “Oh yeah, I get these problems.” But we don’t really understand why because we’ve never stopped to really grasp the situation. The other thing, where I think Lean is really important, comes in the notion of visual management. I hear people saying all the time, “You know, I feel like I’m always reactive. I’m not proactive. I’m always being tactical. I can never be strategic.”

They cite the same thing that you talked about ? an email comes in that’s kind of important or my boss comes in and says, “We have to do X, Y, and Z.” I think what I see is that because we are knowledge workers our work tends to be invisible. It tends to reside in bits and bytes of electrons of data sitting in our email inbox, sitting in a document somewhere on our computer desktop, whatever.

But it’s not real visible. It’s not like an engine assembly in front of you. It’s not like a fan blade that you’re working on in front of you. As a consequence what happens is that it’s very easy to pull my attention away from what I’m working on.

I think visual management, the notion of taking the work that you’re doing and somehow making it more visible, making it more visual, enables us to better judge whether we should be responding to this new problem rather than the thing that we were working on.

So again, the simple example, Joe, would be, I am working on something and then an email comes in, and I look at it and I say, “Oh, boy. I’m going to handle this,” and I get distracted by that. The problem is I don’t know what I’m supposed to be working on. Because my work is relatively invisible, I don’t really have the ability to say which is truly more important, this new thing that came in or this old thing that I was supposed to be working on.

And so what happens is we’re always distracted by the squeaky wheel and we start giving it the oil or the grease, instead of saying, “Gosh, this wheel maybe squeaking, but I’ve got much bigger issues to take care of.”

I think ideas that you see in something like Jim Benson’s Personal Kanban, that’s one way of making the work visible. You’ve got the physical representation of it on a white board and now you can say, “These are the three things that I am working on now. This is my work in progress. Oops. Here comes something new. Well, is it more important than these three things, yes or no?” If the answer is yes, well then, great, change. If the answer is no, well then, figure out how you are going to handle it.

Stick with what you are doing and then figure out how you are going to cue up that new thing, or hand it off to someone else or ignore it or whatever.”

Michael Balle:

Podcast: Audio Collection of Dr. Balle on Kaizen

Transcription: Kaizen is Always Individual

Video Series: Dr. Balle Friday Video Series

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