5S Blog Post

Kaizen Events That Rock

Mark Hamel On How To Implement Successful Kaizen Events


Mark Hamel is a Lean/Six Sigma implementation consultant and award-winning author of the Kaizen Event Fieldbook. Mark also created and writes the Lean blog “Gemba Tales.” The always-busy author is also the cofounder of another blog, “Lean Math.” Mark writes columns for Quality Digest as well.

Mr. Hamel has successfully coached Lean leaders, and conducted numerous training sessions and workshops. He has organized hundreds of Kaizen events.

In this podcast, Mark tells of how to implement a Kaizen event. Other topics include lean / Six Sigma, PDCA and SDCA

Interview Transcript

Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast for more info, including links in the transcript of this podcast.
Introduction music
Antonio Ferraro: Hello everyone. This is Antonio. On our episode today is our guest Mark Hamel. Mark is a Lean/Six Sigma implementation consultant. He’s an award-winning author of the Kaizen Event Fieldbook. Mark is also the founder of the Lean blog “Gemba Tales.” He’s also the cofounder of another blog, “Lean Math”, and a regular columnist for Quality Digest. Mark has successfully coached Lean leaders and associates at both the strategic and tactile level. He has facilitated hundreds of Kaizen events and conducted numerous training sessions and workshops. Mark, thanks for coming on the program with us. How are you doing today?
Mark Hamel: Good. I’m doing great. Thanks, Tony.
Antonio: Let’s first talk about your book. You have written an award-winning book called the Kaizen Event Fieldbook. If you would, explain why you chose to write a book about Kaizen, and what a reader can expect to get out of it.
Mark Hamel: Why did I write the book? I think, usually, when I’m blogging and writing a book, and I’m in the midst of another book that I’m way, way behind (and I apologize to my publisher), but, anyway, is I’m usually looking at sharing something that I could use, or could have used, you know, when I started out doing this type of stuff.
Certainly, at the beginning of my Lean career, which is just about 20 years ago, you know, I had my sensei and I’d follow him around and I’d write down everything he did and said, and all that kind of stuff, thinking that maybe I can capture the magic formula. And then, you know, the next time you do something in a different way, and the next time a little bit different way. And it was, you know, it’s more about the thinking and the strategy around how to implement or execute successful Kaizen events.
So, you know, I had done some writing and eventually it was like “You know what? I might as well write a book,” and I submitted a proposal to The Society Of Manufacturing Engineers, SME. And, then, lo and behold they said “Yeah, let’s do this.” Ha, like, “Hello?”
Antonio: (laughs)
Mark: I guess I better finish this thing!” And that’s, kind of, how it kind of took shape.
Antonio: Ha. Did you draw on your own Kaizen war stories when you wrote that book?
Mark: Well, there’s different vignettes, if you will. Little, short stories called “Gemba Tales,” which is where we got the name for the first blog. And its mostly just to illustrate or expound on some of the concepts, but it’s really about the thinking. Try to keep it from being a cookbook. You know, “Hey, when you’re in this situation you do ABCD. If you’re in that situation, you do XYZ.”
It takes you through the foundation and framework of Kaizen. And, you know, again, the emphasis on this book is really Kaizen events which obviously is only part— from a Kaizen perspective— it’s only part of the story. Obviously, where we want to end up, is, you know, not be just a bunch of Kaizen event folks. The Shingo Prize used to categorize that as System Driven Kaizen.
But the book will take you through a “Foundation And Framework” for Kaizen, and then there’s “Transformation Leadership,” because leadership is so darn important, you know, relative to Lean leadership behaviors and support. And then we get into something we call Standardized Work, or Standard Work.
So there’s the strategy. What’s pulling the Kaizen event, you know, we’ve got to be working on stuff that matters. From a strategic imperative standpoint, from a value steam improvement perspective. So, if you’re doing your value stream mapping, you know, after you’ve identified product families, you do the value stream mapping and come up with a value stream improvement plan. And that usually consists of Kaizen events, and projects and “Just-Do-Its.”
So those Kaizen events, they’re identified and they’re flagged in terms of timing and sequence. And then there’s pre-event planning that includes scope, and objectives, and identifying the right team leader, and formulating effective team etc. etc. And I don’t want to bore people. There’s a ton of detail in there.
Antonio: It does sound like a book that you can find everything you need to know about running a successful Kaizen event.
Mark: Right. Yeah, yeah.
Antonio: Where can our listeners buy your book?
Mark: Well, you can get the book through the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. Just go to SME.org to search Kaizen Event Fieldbook. I know it’s in Google Books, and then, you can also buy hard copies at Amazon. It’s a big book. It’s at least 8 1/2” x 11”. Let me measure it. Yeah, it’s 8 1/2” x 11”.
Antonio: (laughs)
Mark: Oh, sorry. It’s not… not something you’re going to put your back pocket, so an electronic might be the way to go.
Antonio: That’s good advice. What are some the biggest mistakes you’ve actually seen organizations or businesses make when they are running Kaizen events?
Mark: Right. Yeah, so there’s a bunch that I’ve seen. There’s a bunch that I’ve done. When I first started out, I was a Kaizen event jockey.
In no particular order, “Not working on what matters.” You know, if you’re doing a Kaizen event, typically you’ve got a cross functional team, or multiple teams, anywhere from, you know, four, five up to eight people per team (bigger if you break things into sub-teams, and it’s for multiple days) and there’s a lot of focus and disruption, so you’ve got to make sure that you’re spending this on stuff that counts. So again, that’s where, kind of, the alignment and direction that comes from the value stream improvement plans and the strategy of deployment and that type of stuff, so you’ve got to work on stuff that matters.
And you’ve got to do it with people, rather than to people. And that’s definitely a killer, if you’re just, kind of, using the poor stakeholders to execute management’s will, it’s not going to be sustainable. You’re gonna, you know, Kaizen, Kaizen events, are really just a delivery mechanism for making improvements, and the people who are driving that mechanism have to be “the people.”
Antonio: And, based on my experience, I think the biggest mistake that I’ve seen in Kaizen events is the wrong stakeholders are involved in the event. They don’t have the right stakeholders.
Mark: Right. You know, that’s part of the preplanning and selecting the right teams. Rough rule of thumb: A third of the folks should be coming from within the target process. A third split between upstream and downstream. And roughly a third should be fresh eyes.
When I first started this stuff, you know, 20 years ago, it was about “Hey, hitting the numbers.” Improve productivity, you know, 25-30%. Improve quality, you know, by X percent.” It’s achieving those things, but it’s also, as much, if not more, about organizational learning. That’s just so important. People need to learn how to think, how to make improvements, take ownership, you know, experiment. “We’re following the PDCA cycle,” right? So, it’s a cycle because you never really get it right. We’re just trying to continue to make improvements.
So that gets to another mistake, which is “Not following the proper rigor.” The Kaizen storyline, that I detail here, one of the elements there is to understand current conditions. And then identify issues and opportunities. And from there, you know, you’re going to come up with countermeasures. You can’t do a countermeasure unless you understand the root cause. If you don’t understand the causal relationship, any kind of improvement that you make is really not going to be good.
So we talk about the PDCA rigor, but also SDCA. So: Standardize, Do, Check, Act. So, we’re going to end up putting standards in place. You know, vis–à–vis, standardized work and things like that. And then we’re obligated to go out and check to see if we’re getting what we think we should be getting. And, if not, make adjustments. You don’t just say “Hey, I came up with this new layout, this new standardized work. We really didn’t test it. Good luck, Godspeed, you, uh, you people who have to live with this.”
And, I know, I know, personally, I’ve never, ever, ever, first-time, second-time, third-time, fourth-time, etc., out-of-the-box, ever made perfect standard work. It’s just too darned hard. You have to keep trying it. And improving it.
Antonio: Ok. When you’ve got the stakeholders involved in the Kaizen, do you get a lot of bad feedback sometimes from the employees that aren’t involved in the event?
Mark: Yeah, you definitely can. Which is why, you know, when you’re selecting people from the target process, people who know the process, know the people, you’re going to get some official and unofficial leaders. And you’ve got to communicate as you’re going through the entire process. Even way back into, you know, the preplanning. So…
“Hey, you know, whatever, four, five, six-plus weeks, whatever . . . We’re going to be having a Kaizen event in the particular area. This is how it ties, do you remember how we did the value stream mapping? This is how it ties to that future state, part of our value stream improvement plan. This is why it’s important. This is our approach. We’re going to have this Kaizen event at this particular time. You know, you’re going to see some people out here.”
This is where you’ve got to use emotional intelligence. You know, you want people to feel a certain way. You want people to feel excited, anticipating this good stuff, knowing that they’re going to participate at some level. And you’ve got to understand how they’re actually feeling now, which often is: they’re apprehensive; they think there’s going to be a risk to their particular job. It might not be their employment, but it could be their job. And you’ve got to figure out how to close that gap.
So, that’s where communication, this is where leadership is so darn important. And even throughout the event, you’ve got to let people know what’s going on, and why it’s going on, and when it’s going to go on, and they have to–those stakeholders–have to be part of the process of proving out that standardized work, the new way of doing it, testing that new layout, and we’ve got to take their feedback and make adjustments based upon that.
Antonio: There’s always a stigma with employees in production. When they hear they’re going to be doing a Lean event, some worry about their job being eliminated. Do you deal with that a lot?
Mark: Well, typically, we will not work with anyone who, uh, you know, isn’t principled enough to tell people that “No one is going to lose their job as a result of productivity improvements.”
Antonio: Great.
Mark: If you’re not willing to say that, people can figure that out in a hurry. It just has to happen once. You know, you have the first workshop or event, and then some people get shot. And you’re like, “OK, so who wants to do the next one?” Nobody. Nobody.
Antonio: No doubt. Let’s shift gears… How does Kaizen help the management of Lean?
Mark: So, are you talking events, or…?
Antonio: Yes, events.
Mark: Yeah, so take a look at somebody, you know, Art Fern. Uh, or George Koenigsaecker. I mean, they really talk about using Kaizen events very heavily, you know, two, three years into the Lean transformation. And that’s really where you can make a lot of step function improvements versus the daily Kaizen stuff, which, you know, is true Kaizen. That’s small, incremental improvements, typically.
So, you’ve got places that are doing, depending upon the size, a Kaizen event per month. And there’s statistics, in terms of what the sweet spot is. If you look at Koenigsaecker’s book, I think it’s called “Leading The Lean Transformation Effort,” he’s got some numbers in there. You know, it’s a balancing act between getting the momentum and making the improvements, and totally overwhelming the organization. You know, when you have Kaizen newspaper items— which are basically the left-over To-Dos— they keep accumulating and you’re not catching up, that’s usually a good indication that maybe you’re going too fast. Or you’re not executing the Kaizen events effectively. And/or you don’t have appropriate resources assigned to this type of stuff, which includes KPO-type resources.
Antonio: Alright. Can you share your most important tools that help you with your Kaizen events, and help make your project successful?
Mark: Yeah, so I’m thinking it’s more around thinking than tools, but, you know, you use tools with that thinking. So I like, kind of, going back to “Why the heck are you working on the stuff that you’re working on?” Ah, you know, certainly, it’s really important have an understanding of your value stream. Call it Flow Kaizen, where you do value stream mapping. Ah, because you’re really looking at trying to achieve as much continuous flow as possible. And that value stream improvement plan is really your roadmap. So that’s really important, as kind of a feeder on that.
And then a Kaizen event’s standardized work, or standard work, is super important, you know, in terms of the sequence of the event and the things that you’ve got to be taking into account. And then there’s supporting forms that can then help you, I mean, those are really cool. And I wouldn’t get too tied up in forms, per se, because you can certainly do them on flip charts. And actually, that’s my preference in many situations. So, for example, a Kaizen event target sheet can be done on a flip chart. Some situations it makes sense to do a mission statement.
So now you’re going to have perhaps a pre-event area profile to help you kind of do the preplanning, in terms with scope is. “What are those initial targets that we want to get at?” and “What’s the team composition?”
There’s a bunch of stuff there, but when you get into understanding the pre-Kaizen situation or condition, you know, obviously, things like time observation forms, and spaghetti charts, percent load charts, 5S score sheets, that type of stuff.
(12:44) And then post-event you’re looking at standard worksheets, standard work combination sheets. And, you know, obviously going to mix in here process maps, improvement idea forms. Really, one-pagers to show people, to share with people “Hey, here’s the problem that we found, here’s the action we took, here’s the measurable results, here’s a quick characterization sketch, picture, whatever, of the before condition, the after condition.” So on, so forth.
So there’s, so there’s a bunch of stuff you can use during the event. It’ll help, kind of, align thinking. And you want people see the team, and kind of speak the same language. And those kind of tools help people do that. And then, ultimately, you want to bring in Lean management system elements to make sure that we sustain the improvements. So we get into things like leader standard work, and the related visual controls.
Because we want to go back to that SDCA. Standardize…so we put standards in place, we hope people do them. We check to see “Are we adhering to those?” And “Is that standard work sufficient?” And then we make adjustments based upon that. So we want to basically set up the infrastructure, or the ecosystem, to ensure that. So that should be included in the whole tool set make sure that it’s successful.
Antonio: OK. And then, based on the Kaizen events I’ve been involved with, a lot of times, you get to the last day of a Kaizen event, and it’s…is it pretty common to have a group that gets together and have lunch, and then they present their findings to upper management in a PowerPoint?
Mark: Right. Yeah, so, that’s typically what we call the report-out, or the final presentation, or whatever. Something that’s, like, 20 minutes or 30 minutes per team. Their team is basically telling the story of what they did, and how they did it. You know, walking you through the journey that we took. I’d rather not do PowerPoint slides. I’d rather have people working on making improvements rather than making stuff that looks pretty. If you’re going to do PowerPoint slides, heck, take a picture of the flip chart, and your hand-drawn and recorded stuff. And then stick that in PowerPoint. Yeah, so this is kind of formal “Hey, this is what we did.”
But what we don’t want overlook, too— and this is part of Kaizen event work strategy and standardized work— is we should be having on a daily basis, at the end of each day, a team leader meeting. So, it’s basically the team leader and the facilitator. If you’ve got a consultant, then the consultant, and any out-of-town guests, reviewing with leadership, “Hey, this was our plan for the day. This is what we accomplished. Here’s the issues and barriers that got in our way. Here’s our plan for tomorrow.”
And that keeps leadership up to speed in terms of what’s going on within that leadership that should be giving them some help, vis–à–vis resources, or advice, or kick them in the tail and tell them to break through that particular barrier. You know, stop being babies.
So that when you get to that report-out at the end of the event, whether it’s a two-day, three-day, four-day, five-day event, you don’t have senior leaders going “You did what?
Antonio: Yeah, exactly! Ha Ha.
Mark: How’d you get there? Put it all back! So that ensures you’ve got accountability for the team leaders, and also for leadership, because they can’t be absentee leaders and just, kind of, show up at the end. Oh, by the way, they should be there for the kick-off too.
Antonio: Yes
Mark: And they should be part of the preplanning. It’s not just something that kind of hatches on its own.
Antonio: Ok. And you’re writing another book, you say?
Mark: Right. I’ve got another blog which is called “Lean Math,” and the co-author of mine and I have got hundreds and hundreds of entries around different aspects of Lean math but there’s still a fair amount more to go.
Antonio: When I hear Lean math, I hear numbers, I hear multiplication. Is that what it is?
Mark: You know, it’s, especially if you’re in the manufacturing side of Lean, there’s a tremendous amount of math that’s required. So, if you just look at inventory and understanding demand, and all that kind of stuff, you know, you’re sizing Kanbans, there’s you know, literally… probably got a hundred pages worth of stuff around that. And around the main variation, and understanding that. And segmenting demand, and coefficient of variation.
And, you’re, you know, how do you identify—based upon that—safety stock, what’s your cycle stock, container capacity. All the way to more of the traditional, Six Sigma-type stuff. But there’s a ton of math. And again, it’s another one of those “Hey, I wish I had a reference way back when, so I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel over and over again.
Antonio: That’s great. I’ll make sure to watch out for that book. Do you have a release date goal in mind?
Mark: Heh, yeah, we did. We had a couple.
Antonio: (laughs)
Mark: (laughter) We blew, we blew right by those. So, we’re both, you know, Michael O’Connor—who’s a PhD, I call him Dr. Math—uh, he and I, we’re busy guys. So, I think our publisher’s not too thrilled with us. So, I’m not even going to put a date out right now.
Antonio: I understand. I had to ask for our audience, in case they are wondering.
Mark: Yeah
Antonio: Before we go, do you have any final thoughts about Kaizen?
Mark: Ahh, in the end we’ve got to understand that nothing’s perfect and it’s really a continuous improvement journey. So, um, just keep working. Keep trying to improve. Keep experimenting, that’s how you’re going to learn. You’re going to learn by doing.
You can pick up a book. I think my book would be helpful, but still, at the end of the day, you’ve got to go and try to, ah, try to do this stuff.
Antonio: Perfect. Well, you heard it from Mark Hamel. Mark is the author of The Kaizen Event Fieldbook, which you can get at kaizenfieldbook.com, where you can also access his Lean blog “Gemba Tales.” Mark also has a Lean math blog at LeanMath.com
Thanks, Mark.
Mark: Thanks for having me.
Antonio: Everyone, it’s about that time where we have to say goodbye. This is Antonio Ferraro. And thanks to all of you for joining us.
(Outro Music with Voiceover)
Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to podcast@creativesafetysupply.com. For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast
worker conference image © ℗ 2013 PEO ACWA

Additional Resources