How to Enable Digital KaizenConnecting Your Entire Workforce in Support of “Always-On” Continuous Improvement
Any problem is solvable when the budget is big enough. However, few manufacturers have unlimited funds, hence the popularity of Kaizen Events. A Kaizen event is an intense three to five-day effort intended to solve problems quickly and bring about real, sustained improvement. Sometimes they’re wildly successful. (Those are the ones everyone hears about.) More often, they yield useful, though incremental, gains. Occasionally they yield no benefit at all.
Success hinges on having the right people involved. The better they know the equipment, products and processes being targeted, the more they can contribute. The quantity, quality and practicality of ideas will improve. And best of all, they’ll be committed to implementing the changes and determined to make them stick.
Getting access to those people, especially frontline workers, is perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Kaizen event organizer. They can’t be spared from their production duties, they work different shifts, they may even be in different locations. Yet research published in the Engineering Management Journal shows that when key functions aren’t represented, an event will be less successful.
Making the right people available, however, can be costly. There could be overtime pay, travel expenses and perhaps even lost output. When outcomes are uncertain, persuading management to dedicate resources to Kaizen can be an uphill battle.
But manufacturers have other options. Given the prevalence and success of digital tools for communication and collaboration among office workers, including new worker performance support apps like Poka, manufacturers can digitally connect their entire workforce to enable virtual kaizen events on a continuous basis.
Requirements For Virtual Kaizen
The traditional Kaizen event works by pulling together stakeholders from all functional areas in a face-to-face environment to drive “change for good” (the literal translation of Kaizen).
A virtual Kaizen event, on the other hand, needs to support the same level of collaboration online so that everyone (even frontline workers) can participate directly from their place of work.
With this in mind, a digital kaizen platform needs to include the following capabilities:
- Real-time communication across production lines, shifts, departments and even factories
- The ability for workers to easily capture and communicate the problems they are facing and recommendations for how to resolve it via text, photos and videos
- A Kanban view to facilitate the management, tracking and archival of issues
- The ability to assign tasks, due dates and criticality
- A method for keeping everyone informed of progress
- Conversion of resolved problems into new standards for work
It may seem like a stretch to think of doing away with stand-up huddles around a white board, but it is possible. “Blue Ribbon” manufacturers like Mars, ABB, Danone and Bosch are taking this approach to shine a light on production issues and better leverage the skills and experience of their factory workers.
How Virtual Kaizen Works
Consider the following example. A coiled sheet metal is fed into a stamping line. Holes are punched, geometry formed, and a barcode printed. After inspection pieces are stacked for transport to assembly. Demand has grown since the line was installed, but with relatively low OEE, management wants to see increased output before investing in additional capacity.
It’s an ideal target for a Kaizen event. Assemble a team, have them identify wastes, then generate improvement ideas. After evaluation a few will be implemented. If all goes well, OEE will rise. If things go extremely well, OEE will rise enough to justify the cost of the event AND the benefits will continue to accrue a year later.
Now let’s look at how to make this happen as a virtual Kaizen process.
Step 1 – Prepare
As with a conventional event, begin by identifying the target problem for improvement and a team to work on it.
Selecting the issue you want to focus on is not always as clear as our story above. Big problems that are impacting equipment uptime, or that demand the most unplanned maintenance may be the obvious place to start. But sometimes the cumulative effect of micro issues can actually be costing you more. The challenge is, it is difficult to shine a light on those problems without an efficient way to track, organize and analyze feedback from production.
But with digital communications and collaboration capabilities (at Poka, we call this a Factory Feed), you can add context to MES data and be more efficient than Gemba walks. Imagine a live news feed where a problem with a specific machine can be tagged in real-time. The result is a digital logbook that performance engineers can use to easily monitor and review the history of issues, and then identify trends.
Once you have your priority problem in sight, find the individuals who can best add value or unique knowledge to the process. These should be people who are intimately acquainted with the line, products and equipment. It’s also helpful if they are both stakeholders and influencers. Shift supervisors are a good example.
Where the virtual event differs is that there are no limits on who can attend. Geography, time zones and availability are no barrier, so the virtual event can include all the right people, not just those who can be spared. That means you can also skip almost all logistics: meals, lodging, travel, and meeting rooms. Everyone can participate directly from their workstations as part of their daily workflow.
Send out announcements to let everyone know what problem is being addressed, expectations, milestones and when the Virtual Kaizen event must be completed by. With a digital tool, this can be easy and effective. No need to rely on word-of-mouth or email! Also, create dedicated areas and tags within the app for storing and sharing information and ideas related to the Kaizen event. Ensure this is open to everyone who’s been invited to contribute.
Step 2 – Deep Dive the Issue
Define the problem (the line isn’t running enough hours per week) and ensure everyone understands the operation. Review what’s already known: standard operating procedures, the product mix, scrap rates, downtime records.
Supplement this quantitative data and official documentation with more qualitative input from frontline workers. When using a tool like Poka, workers have already shared photos and videos of problems and potential solutions in real-time over the course of their daily work.
You may also ask for specific feedback at critical control points for the period of the Kaizen event to gain even more information.
A huge advantage to doing it this way is that you can capture issues over time and across shifts giving you the clearest picture of what is happening. The understanding that will come from pictures and videos will accelerate alignment among team members and avoid broken telephone.
As this step wraps up, summarize and share the findings with the team using the communications or factory feed.
Step 3 – Seek Solutions
During this critical brainstorming phase, use the commenting and tagging capabilities of your digital tool to push contributors to fully explore their presumptions and suggestions.
The idea is to not just solve the problem in the moment, but to seek solutions that will prevent it from happening again. Have the facilitator ask questions and push everyone’s thinking. The “5 Whys” works extremely well here. Why does the lubricator run dry? Because we can't see into the cabinet.
An added benefit of using a digital tool for brainstorming solutions to problems is that valuable input from more introverted stakeholders is more likely to be captured and heard.
Ensure all ideas are placed in context with pictures and videos to aid understanding. Put a time limit or deadline on this step to delineate it from the next step. Because the conversation thread occurs in real-time, there is no need to publish a Kaizen newspaper.
Step 4 – Get Consensus
Guide the virtual team in selecting ideas for implementation. Again, the ease of communicating and sharing simplifies this step. Then, having picked ideas, find champions and agree to implementation dates.
In the conventional process, it’s usual to brief a larger audience of stakeholders on what the team has decided to do. Digital Kaizen makes this less imperative as the news feed has in effect “live streamed” idea evaluation and selection throughout the Kaizen event.
Ideally any red flags have been raised earlier in the process and by this point, alignment has been achieved - all that’s required is a “rubber stamp” meeting to get formal approval for proceeding into implementation.
Step 5 – Make it happen
Launch the changes. In order for improvements to be implemented and sustained, the new standard way of working must be documented, communicated, and workers trained. Use the information gathered during the virtual Kaizen event, (text, photos and videos,) to easily update current work instructions or create new ones as needed. Publishing short work instructions in video format is easier than rewriting lengthy SoPs.
In traditional factory operations, supervisors would typically be tasked with communicating changes to team members. The challenge with this approach is that there is no record of who received the update, nor any effective way to ensure they understood the message.
Using a digital tool like Poka that combines communication, collaboration, issues management and training into a single integrated platform makes this very easy. When launching the improvement, workers that are assigned to the impacted workstations automatically receive notifications that there is updated training content that requires their attention. It’s even possible to create an exam to confirm everyone’s understanding.
Having reached the final milestone, recognize everyone who contributed to the effort. Again, use the news feed to get the word out. (Prompt and enthusiastic recognition will help the next event be a success too.)
Poka is a worker performance support app designed specifically for the unique requirements of the factory floor. Poka has helped some of the world’s leading manufacturers to achieve real improvements faster than is possible with legacy methods.
For example, a global manufacturer of confectionery and other food products is using Poka to identify ideas and gain alignment across CI teams. Before Poka, ideas were only considered and approved during monthly meetings. Now it’s happening 80% faster as the live news feed enables review and discussion in real-time. This, in turn, is letting them get new SOPs published and out to workers faster. The result: a 95% reduction in the time taken to resolve problems. That means less waste and lower costs.
Poka isn’t a substitute for traditional Kaizen Events. Those formal, all-hands-on-deck improvement efforts will continue. What Poka does is make them easier, less disruptive and more effective because it’s all done virtually. What’s more, you can enable workers to contribute to Kaizen on a continuous basis as part of their daily workflow.
Poka makes Kaizen Events less expensive, so you‘ll want to do more of them. For management it lowers the bar on acceptable minimum returns to justify the effort. And last, the ease of creating and sharing work documentation means the improvements are far more likely to be sustained.
Bill Blank is an implementation specialist on Poka's Professional Services team. He has a broad background across various company functions and loves manufacturing. He thrives on meeting people in the field and helping them make transformations with Poka.