As the week of Project Kaizen blogging rolls on with great insight coming from all sorts of unexpected corners, we reach a topic in which one of the ‘Gang of Seven’ towers so far above the rest of us, it is almost embarrassing to try to contribute. Thursday’s theme is ‘Quick and Easy Kaizen’ in a project setting and Norm Bodek quite literally wrote the book on the topic. Please do yourself the favor of checking out his take on the matter.
Quick and easy refers to the unique, often small improvements that each person can make individually, without the need for higher level approval. Rarely does it involve ‘what to do’ – the house has to be built to the blueprint. It more typically involves ‘how to do it’. Just as the essential ingredient in Quick and Easy Kaizen in a run of the mill repetitive manufacturing setting is management’s willingness to let go, so it is in the project setting. Quick and Easy Kaizen is all about empowerment, and the ones to take a lesson from all of the bloggers on this topic are not the project team members – it is their bosses. The project assignment must be very specific regarding what to do, and virtually wide open regarding how to do it.
The best project kaizen is the one that is demanded. Norman often uses the example of Taichi Ohno telling a group of managers that, within one year, a warehouse had to be converted to a machine shop, and the warehouse workers to machinists. That was it – no direction concerning how, just an ironclad directive regarding what and when. Presumably he was willing to provide a minimum level of resources that were needed to get the job done. That is precisely how quick and easy kaizen should be applied to a any project. The resources were constrained however Ohno chose to constrain them, and the job was certainly constrained by building codes and so forth. But the complete absence of direction concerning how to get the job done virtually demanded creativity from the project members.
The severity of the demand, coupled with the absence of direction, is the key to unlocking kaizen. Had Ohno not put an unreasonable objective before the managers, he most likely would have received a five year transition plan that would have cost a lot of money. By making such an unreasonable demand, he forced each person to think way outside the box.
The manager of the people involved in a project must not only allow quick and easy kaizen by taking away the ‘how to’ directives, he or she must demand kaizen by challenging each member of the project to meet unreasonable goals. If the general contractor simply tells the electricians to ‘do the best they can’, he is likely to get the 10% improvement ideas from each electrician. On the other hand, if he says the house must be wired in half the time normally required, he will get the truly creative breakthrough ideas.
Individual quick and easy kaizen, then, at the level of each project team member is a function of management and requires two distinct actions on the part of the boss. The first is to remove the shackles. Be sure that each team member has the widest latitude possible regarding how to execute their segment of the project. Second is to challenge each team member with unreasonable, stretch goals, demanding that they approach the job at their creative best.
When people are charged with doing something the way it has always been done, the best management can hope for is the outcome they have always had. When people are unleashed and charged with doing something extraordinary, they will deliver extraordinary results. Quick and easy kaizen is management’s responsibility, and management’s opportunity to allow great things to happen.