Lean Kaizen: Continuous Improvement in the Lean Direction
Traditional Kaizen came to the western world like lightening: people in industry got fascinated by the concept of "continuous improvement", a bit less - perhaps - by its "bottom-up" approach. Nevertheless, they went for it!
In a "westernalized" fashion, they invented the famous Suggestion Box scheme (whereby personnel at all levels would be "involved" by inserting written, most often anonymous, suggestions regarding "items" to be improved...)
And they invented Kaizen Board Meetings (where middle/high-level managers would meet - even on a weekly frequency - to attend to items to be improved...)
And, obviously, there was an improvements list, with all items requiring improvement...
But only few industries in the West practiced Kaizen with its original "spirit" and "methodology".
I recall an old story regarding Western Kaizen. In a "Mediterranean" Country, I was conducting training seminars followed by a day's consulting visit to participating companies premises (to give advice related to the seminar's content).
The previous year I had presented a successful seminar on "Traditional Kaizen". This time, many the same participants of the previous year - all from a company I had already visited - attended the new training seminar.
I remember very well the CEO of that Company (attending previous year and this year) telling me: "...Dr. Carlo, when you will visit us next week, you will be amazed to see how we put into practice the Kaizen messages you gave us last year!"
Very intrigued, I asked (as I always do) if I could carry my Video Camera with me.
"Of course! You are welcome!"
So, the company visit's day comes, and I am welcomed at the Company premises, then accompanied to the Board Room.
I was told the Kaizen "committee" would now start one of the weekly meetings on Kaizen improvements, as per "agenda" of the day. My comments would be welcome...
The day's item in the "agenda" was "How to improve and rationalize the distribution of toilet paper and other hygiene products throughout the Company (large-size Company - huge factory...).
Rather astonished, I kept quiet and started my video recording...
Perhaps you won't believe me, but - for over 1 solid hour (my 1 hour video camera tape ran out...) - the 12 persons in the "committee" debated and debated (in a rather well conducted team work) on "toilet paper" matters (from supply chain issues - to stock management, with great attention to "FIFO" practices - to factory-key-personnel in charge of giving "early warning" signals/notifications on each "area shortages" etc.
I kept quiet until the end of the meeting, but then grabbed my "stick" (and my 5 lbs hammer...) and started tapping on fingers...
Over 1 hour of Kaizen meeting to deal with toilet paper internal distribution system (sigh), when they had many more important improvement items to deal with!
They explained: "That was the 'next' item in the Kaizen Agenda...".
Me: "and what about prioritizing?"
They: "We prefer to deal with suggested improvements in the same order in which suggestions have been given, in order to give timely feed-backs to those making suggestions..."
Me: "Throw away the Suggestion Box Scheme!"
They: "What? That's the way we involve people 'bottom-up', as you recommended..."
Me: "Perhaps I should explain again what 'bottom-up' really means, although I thought my message of last year (and case studies, and videos...) was rather clear... - so: I shall explain again..." - which I did...
YES, that could be the negative effect of traditional Improvement lists and suggestion box schemes.
I found similar situations regularly over many years, in a dozen different countries, in many, industrial/business concerns. This is where Lean Kaizen comes to the rescue, and that's why Lean Kaizen is so much needed!