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The Second Kaizen Event

At this point, a lot of time and money had been invested in the lean journey and there had been very little reward. It was now July, nearly three months since the first kaizen event. X-Corp was not moving in the direction I was hoping for. There had been a lot of initial excitement and valuable up-front training, both of which are important. However, even with these factors, the implementations were slow and relatively unsuccessful. Some of the other areas that were targeted in the first event slowly returned to their old way of working and discarded many of the improvements. One reason for the return to the old, inefficient work patterns was that new employees were brought on board without the benefit of lean training.

As I’ve mentioned, it is critical that all employees be trained on, at minimum, the basics of lean manufacturing, as well as how to act and work in a standardized process that is focused on waste reduction. At X-Corp, new operators were placed on the line as soon as they had completed a brief company orientation. Because the production supervisors and operators were not following the new lean processes, the new employees didn’t either. As with many companies going through lean transformation, the culture was not committed to the process.

I still had an interest in the success of the engine line, so I kept a focus on it from a distance. It was difficult to walk away from my own line, but I helped as much as I could. The second event was rapidly approaching, and again X-Corp was bringing in consultants. This time, I was hoping for more participation and guidance. We were informed that the company was sending a different consultant this time around. The X-Corp employees were still disgruntled about the first kaizen event because of the lack of communication and structure. An organized kaizen program (as I describe in Chapter 3) was definitely needed. Nevertheless, the teams were formed and the date approached quickly.

This time around, I scheduled a meeting with the team members who were assigned to me. The event was scheduled for August, so we had some time to analyze the process we were given. This particular line built small heating and air conditioning units for small delivery trucks that transported cold products. It was called the 1065 line. These units were about the size of a 25-inch television. I asked each member to collect data for time studies, inventory analysis, on-hand quantities, and waste analysis. This time I was intent on being prepared and going in fully armed, and no one could persuade me differently. I felt it was time to take this lean journey in a different direction and planned to ask my team to perform the duties needed to implement a lean process and really make it stick.

As with the first kaizen event, we were told not to do any up-front planning so that it could be done by the team during kaizen week. Clearly, this approach had not worked well, so my team went to work behind the scenes. As the weeks passed and the event drew nearer, I spent time on the engine line and the other processes that had been part of the first event. It was obvious that management lacked commitment or accountability in these areas. The 5S procedures on the engine line began to fall apart. Workstations became cluttered, labels and designations were not being followed, and operators were still leaving their workstations. Even with production supervisors standing right there, the new standard operating procedures were not followed. Sometimes, the supervisors would strike up 15- to 20-minute conversations with the operators as the line became backed up with units. As a lean engineer, I was losing patience and did not know where to turn. At the same time, I tried to stay positive and keep the new team focused on data collection for the next event.

The first day of the second kaizen event arrived. X-Corp gathered everyone into a training room to meet with the new consultant and hear about the week. My team was ready. The members had gathered a significant amount of information about our assigned line. We were ready to hit the ground running the minute we were released from the meeting. The new consultant gave a speech that sounded a lot like the one given by the first consultant—about waste, change, and kaizen. X-Corp’s plant manager gave the teams his go-ahead, and off we went.

The other teams walked out with clipboards and stopwatches. We walked out with drills and tools. There would still be plenty of ideas and solutions generated by the team during the week, but we were excited about being already armed with data on the current state.

Most of our team meetings were held right on the floor as we mapped the new line design, with review and insight provided by the operators and supervisors. Having them involved in the design phase was critical to our success, because it promoted greater acceptance from the other workers on the line.

As the event ran its course, the team felt certain this process was going to work—perhaps not from a design perspective, but definitely from the perspective of culture change. The team slowly pieced the line together. We reduced the number of workstations from ten to seven by removing wasted walking and work content imbalances and by implementing single piece flow. We approached 5S head-on, leaving nothing unidentified or undesignated.

It was a satisfying and exciting transformation. As the lean engineer, I wanted the entire plant and all the teams to succeed. We had initially anticipated that the engine line would set the standard and be the model line, but management and production supervision had let the line fall back into inefficient routines. The 1065 line gave us another chance for success.

The team members worked well together. They came up with creative ways to construct the workstations and present tools and material. My manager pulled me aside and expressed her satisfaction with our progress. Looking directly at her, I said, “That is what good up-front planning can do for you.”

The second kaizen event came to an end at X-Corp, and the 1065 line looked great. Of course, the real test would come on the following Monday, when the line would run its new processes for the first time. On the last day of the event, I allowed my team to make the presentation to the company. We had put a lot of effort into the 1065 line and placed great trust in the operators and production supervisors to make it work. They all appeared to be well equipped to handle the new processes, and I assured them that the team members, although going back to their regular jobs, would be there on Monday to support the effort.

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