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“We wanted to upgrade the process improvement skills of all of our staff, and Shelley was superb in every way! She taught us not only advanced business process improvement skills, but also her wealth of real client experiences added a great amount of color and dimension to the training. We are already using her ideas with our clients. Thank you Shelley!”

Shelly Berlin
Berlin, Eaton & Associates


Do Kaizens Work for Knowledge Workers? - Part 1

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 6.17.29 PMKaizen (改善), is Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the best”.  It is usually associated with Lean methodology and is often run as a rapid improvement event lasting 5 full days with a team working to study a value stream, find problems, discover root cause, recommend and implement improvements.  It’s an intense week, and some have called Kaizens “five days and one night” because team members work so hard for 5 days they only get one night’s sleep.  

I just finished a Kaizen event with a group of knowledge workers in an Environmental, Health and Safety (EH&S) Group that was studying the permit process for special events.  They were concerned because more than 15 permits could be required for special events; people didn’t know which permits were required, the permits were cumbersome to get, and EH&S worried that there were risks when events didn’t have needed permits.

The EH&S organization was part of the Business Administrative division who had been doing Lean in other parts of the organization, and now EH&S was beginning a Lean journey.  After some awareness training for the whole staff they chose this Kaizen as their first project.

We began by talking with executives and selecting the leadership for the project – an Executive Sponsor, Process Owner, Project Lead, and Team Facilitator. I was the external consultant.  We wrote a charter, with initial challenges, two improvement targets, vision, scope, metric categories, and high level value stream map for the four permits we would look at.  We then selected the team of subject matter experts, anIT person, a documenter, and a maverick.  We scheduled the dates, and began doing extensive preparation – namely getting the team members on board, finding rooms, scheduling phone interviews to talk with customers, gathering data on time, information sources, and doing some monitoring for how it took customers to actually request permits and then how long it took for them to be processed by the EH&S staff.  Purpose:  This preparation phase sets the focus and goals,  gets the resources growing together, builds data understanding and gathers quantitative numbers, all  of which helps reduce bottlenecks and waiting during the 4 days of Kaizen. 

This Kaizen was four days in total – two days, 8 business days in between and then the last two days.  I find for service and information  processes with knowledge workers a split session is helpful.  These employees and managers are used to working on seven or eight projects at one time and this schedule gives great focus and speed to the Kaizen, allows for experiments and implementation to happen in the 8 days, and provides some breathing room.  It is also easier to schedule – instead of waiting four months for everyone to have four days free in a row.  

Part 2 of this blog next week will cover the four days of the Kaizen and the results.

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