Creating a Continuous Improvement culture (Managed)

The second level focuses on the creation of a culture in which all employees are involved in the improvement process. At this level we adhere to the philosophy Masaaki Imai explained in his book Kaizen (1986). Kaizen focuses on improvements at the workplace of an organization. In Japanese this workplace is called the ‘Gemba’.

The Kaizen philosophy is based on a continuous process of small improvement steps rather than large breakthrough improvements as is done in programs like Six Sigma. Every week a number of small improvements should be visible to create a constant feeling of success. The idea behind this is that by realizing a large number of small improvements actually a big improvement has been made. It is also much easier for staff to adapt to small changes rather than cope with one major change.

To support the realization of a Continuous Improvement culture it is important to involve as many people as possible to ensure the entire team will be part of this culture. Communication about the daily performance is very important to get all individuals aligned and involved. This is achieved by putting in place visual management boards with the results of the process. Short daily stand-up meetings will be organized with all involved to discuss the daily output, the issues of the moment and agreement on the actions that need to be taken. The approach for a Continuous Improvement project is the PDCA circle. PDCA stands for Plan – Do – Check – Act.

The 5S program and the visual management boards will result in overview of the workplace and insight in the process. An additional approach to create overview and insight is WIP-control (control of ‘Work in Process’). The intention is to reduce the number of orders that people are working on at a certain moment. The philosophy of this is that a person can only work on one order at a time. Why then have a pile of orders at the production floor or desk that are waiting for processing? It will take a lot of space and will not support management oversight. It will also increase the average Lead Time of an order. A simple equation to describe the relation between the amount of WIP and Lead Time is called Little’s Law.