Lean Tools: Rapid Improvement Processes

A Rapid Improvement Process—or Kaizen Blitz, as it is more commonly called—is a very intense five-day event that results in immediate change and bottom-line results. For greatest impact and cultural change, it is suggested to have multiple events. Some organization hold three- or four-day events also. The success of this tool lies within two groups:

The first group consists of the senior managers. Before the event begins, they must actively support this effort by selecting specific improvement projects, most likely from information developed during the Lean Assessment or during a senior management brainstorming session.

The second group consists of the hourly workers who make up the largest portion of the cross-functional team. They must be enthusiastic about this event and understand their responsibility to identify problems and implement solutions.

Usually, a facilitator from outside the process begins the event with training on the tools to be used; by the first afternoon, they are diving into the process headfirst. We gather data from the process in question and the team takes its own measurements of the process performance to help us get more current and accurate information. Team members brainstorm possible solutions and examine the feasibility of implementing them.

These events can apply a single tool like Quick Changeovers, Kanbans, or JIT techniques, but many of them apply a combination of several tools for the largest impact. Once the team has identified the improvements it needs to make, it starts to physically move equipment, machines, parts, materials, and work areas to achieve its goals. The results are run as trials to assure compliance with standards as well as production and quality requirements. Standard Operating Procedures are developed and tested on the new processes as part of the event.

At the end of the week, the team presents its changes to senior management and the anticipated financial ROI is explained. These events are the easiest and fastest way to get bottom-line results. Remember, though, that they are extremely active events by their nature, and can therefore cause major disruption in the workplace if not supported by management and understood by everyone.

Further, the results will only be permanent if management consistently supports the documented changes and if everyone looks for ways to continually improve the process, rather than simply tolerating it as it is. Remember, this is part of the journey, and part of the point: we should never stop looking for improvement opportunities!

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