I have been writing about kaizen a lot recently. It is a simple idea – change for the better. Generally, kaizen stands for small incremental improvements. In today’s post I am going to look at what is the best kind of kaizen.
The Twist in the Dumpling:
A few posts back, I talked about the order for kaizen. In that post, I talked about the idea of Equipment kaizen or Setsubi kaizen. To introduce the concept of the best kind of kaizen I will share a story from Masayasu Tanaka, dealing with Equipment kaizen. He tells of a plant that manufactured steam dumplings (manju in Japanese). They were trying to automate the entire process of making steamed dumplings. The last step of the dumplings was to make a twist on top of the dumpling. All the previous steps were easily automated, however the twisting of the top stumped them. The directive of automating the entire process came directly from the President of the company. The twisting of the top however threw a curveball at the Engineers. They worked on it for many days and sleepless nights. Finally, they were triumphant in creating a machine that could indeed twist the top of the dumpling. Everybody was very happy, and they cheered the smart Engineers for their hard work.
In the midst of all the celebration, someone asked, “Why is there a twist on the dumpling anyways?”
Silence fell across the floor. Nobody could answer the question. The Engineers involved did not know the answer. Finally, with enough asking around, the answer was that the twist indicated the dumpling had meat inside. It was simply an indication of the meat content. The same result could had been achieved with a dent or cut on the top or a different wrapper. (Source: Kaizen Teian 2)
The best kind of kaizen is eliminating the task altogether. Our first focus should be to understand the purpose of the task, and then seeing if we can eliminate it altogether.
The best kind of kaizen is eliminating the task altogether.
I had written about How Do I Do Kaizen previously. The steps for kaizen have roots in the Problem Solving manual from Training Within Industry. This is called as the ECRS process. These are to be followed in the order shown below.
- Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks: The ultimate improvement is eliminating a task altogether. The What and Why questions help us with this.
- Combine the Steps: What are the steps that need to be done in a series? Are there any steps that can be done in parallel? The Where, When and Who questions help us with combining steps to eliminate waste. Additionally, combining also reduces the number of discrete steps in the process.
- Rearrange the Steps: Sometimes changing the sequence also allows us to take away waste from the process. The Where, When and Who questions help us with this. Can we do the current step# 3 before Step# 1? Is there any logic to the current sequence of steps? Can we rearrange to create a better sequence?
- Simplify: Is there any task that can be simplified to make the whole process faster and better? Does the operator spend a lot of time trying to sort things or fumble with things? Can we ultimately simplify all the steps?
I will finish off with a story I read on Snopes that begs us to first understand the purpose of anything you are trying to improve.
A more frightened than injured young Seabee electrician was brought into the hospital suffering from electrical burns. Shortly afterward his instructor, a chief electrician, arrived. “Why on earth didn’t you turn off the main power switch before you tried to splice the wires?” asked the chief.
“I wanted to save time, chief, and I’ve seen you stand on one leg, grab the wires and splice without turning off the power.”
“My God, kid,” exclaimed the chief. “Didn’t you know I have a wooden leg?”
Always keep on learning…
In case you missed it, my last post was Time and TPS.