Today, I heard someone talk about delivering a Kaizen. So I wondered: “How do you deliver a Kaizen? How can it be a product, while kaizen is continuous improvement, according to both LEAN and the Toyota Production System (TPS) and therefore should be an objective and an integrated way of work?
A bit of background
Just a logistics service provider in the Rotterdam area, specialized in ocean freight and break bulk, part of a global logistics company owned by a hedgefund. Most of the personnel is highly dedicated to the core business, which is to enable transport of goods as approved by the general management in the USA, as efficient as possible, and to make at least a moderate annual profit. Since LEAN and Green has entered the logistics branche, the general management decided that all organizations (branches, they call it) must work LEAN. Instead of providing a tailor made implementation plan, supervised by a LEAN master and a dedicated and solid local management, the focus was on cut down expenses only. The local LEAN coordinator is a local employee, not empowered to make any decisions to enhance improvement. Regardless of the dedication of this person.
The lack of a local general manager does not help. It is like a ship, abandoned by the captain. The officers and shipmates try to keep it on track, while the shipping company wants it to go this way and the customers want to go the opposite way. As any captain can tell you: you do not abandon ship until it is sinking and the crew is safe, or until it is safe in the harbor.
Implementation and dedication
This company started to implement LEAN not too long ago. Nothing tailor made, but a one-size-fits-all plan. Which doesn’t apply, because the branches differ from one another. General training for a happy few were provided, but there was no local training, based on the local situation. The majority of the personnel was not trained, did not understand the advantages and therefore did not embrace the new approach.
The implementation was lead by someone from a different branche, lacking the knowledge of this local situation. This self-made LEAN “master” understandably faced resistance and an uncoorparative attitude. All in all a waste of money.
The company’s assets or waste
Personnel should be considered as a company’s asset, not a risk factor. Your people are the ones who can make LEAN work successful, so motivate and empower them to adopt LEAN and adapt it to the company’s core business. It will improve the dedication of your employees.
This does not necessarily mean that they will get a blank check for all the changes. The management should find a balance between what can and cannot be implemented quickly without consulting more than the local management.
Those who do not contribute to improving the business or who cost too much in relation to the products delivered, can be considered as “waste” and should be encouraged to either produce work according to their wages or to find another job oppurtunity.
Be careful though. People can have an added value which is not visible on the surface. Thorough investigation is therefore needed before undertaking outplacement actions.
Simple and flexible
LEAN is a way of approach, not a management tool. The work should be carried out efficiently and effectively, and is constant subject to improvement. Therefore the documents produced should be easy to read and understand by anyone who cares to take a look at them. Keep it Simple.
It is also flexible. The processes shouldn’t be set rigidly as a set of rules, but bound within a framework where everyone can contribute within this framework. Flexibility to achieve the goals defined.
Senior management: engage to LEAN and teach it to your personnel. Only then they will understand the added value of continuous improvement, instead of just producing “another kaizen to meet the targets”.
For privacy reasons, I will not mention any names of companies and/or individuals.
Inspector Gadget image courtesy of DIC Entertainment.