When we look at Lean organizations from a distance, we often only see what meets the eye. We are maybe able to identify their 5S efforts, their kanban system, and can see their TPM boards. And maybe we’re impressed. But what we don’t see is what’s below the surface. What improvements are they actually making? Let’s not forget, most Lean systems are systems that set (visual) standards enabling proper management. But the real tough question is not so much whether a company has such systems, and whether they are sticking to them, but what they do with them. What I always find the most interesting, is what comes out of these Lean systems. What happens on a shift and daily basis with the observations that can be made using these Lean systems? How is “everyone, every day, everywhere”- improvement made a reality? This is the question of Kaizen Teian or the employee-involved proposal system.
Lean or Lean?
When developing and deploying elements of a Lean production or business system, most attention typically goes out to the actual system element, e.g., the performance board, the autonomous maintenance standards, the kanban launchers and batch building boxes, the layout, and so on. This is even seen as “doing Lean”. And of course, these systems do create improvement. But like this, improvement is still left to the experts; maybe with some frontline involvement but clearly driven by the experts. It does not develop the abilities of the employees; it does not necessarily motivate them, and it does not tap into the many smaller opportunities that may exist.
So, have you ever thought about what comes after deploying such elements? Many organizations feel as if they’re done after deploying these systems. But the hard work only starts then. And I’m not only referring to maintaining these systems. I’m referring to generating improvement proposals from them. The most important element of each of these systems is the improvement actions that result from them. This where Lean really starts. Don’t (only) show me your system; show me your team’s actions as a result of these systems. What problems did you identify? What proposals were made by the team? Which ones were implemented? Were they effective?
So, are you somewhat doing Lean, or are you really doing Lean…?
The Suggestion Box vs Kaizen Teian
When you speak about employee improvement proposals to conventional companies, they typically mention their suggestion box. But almost without exception, when I see a suggestion box in a company, it is not used; even ridiculed. I have written about the ineffectiveness of a suggestion box before (read this blog post by following this link). The suggestion box is a passive system. It’s OK to participate, but it is also OK not to. But we strive for truly involved and motivated employees that contribute actively: “everyone, every day, everywhere”. The suggestion box with its many drawbacks does not help to achieve this.
A truly Lean employee-involved suggestion system is required. One that does not only aim at realizing benefits, but also one activates and empowers the whole organization; one that develops the abilities of the personnel; one that creates teamwork and trust; and one that also enables leaders to develop themselves as teachers and coaches. In comes Kaizen Teian, the employee-involved proposal system.
The Walking Suggestion Box
A Kaizen Teian system typically involves a proposal form, a kaizen board, and some form of tracking.
A proposal form is used to define the problem, describe the proposal, and some more general data. No rocket science, but what I genuinely like about it is that in well-functioning Kaizen Teian systems, the people walk around with these small forms in their shirt pockets, or they are readily available in all team areas. It transforms the conventional suggestion box into a walking suggestion box.
Proposals are solicited from team members on the spot, during standup meetings reviewing shift and daily performance, and during one of the management routines on the genba (“genba walks” if you wish) that are part of Leader Standard Work (LSW). This makes it a team activity, also directly related to factual observations by the team; not just a random suggestion.
It also activates all team members, as well as that it positions the leader of the team in a coaching role. They must stimulate problem detection and proposal submission and realization. They must coach their team in rigorously going through the problem-solving process. And they should ensure swift implementation and follow-up of proposals.
Kaizen boards to see the active proposals and their status physically and openly are also part of a successful proposal system. These boards create transparency, show progress (or not), and enable the management of the improvement activity. Together with some metrics to track the improvement activity, it completes the Kaizen Teian system.
Kaizen Teian Leadership
An employee-involved proposal system such as Kaizen Teian does require leadership to actively participate in the system. They need to “persuade” or “entice” people to participate, and to motivate them to actually put in and implement improvement proposals. This is an important task of frontline management, helped by leadership. But it also requires a good system of recognition and possible (small, and team-oriented) rewards, and some “internal marketing”.
On-the-job coaching will become an important task of frontline management, aided by proper standards for problem-solving, proposal evaluation, and improvement management.
A well-functioning Kaizen Teian system is the true differentiator between a company that does Lean in a conventional way, and one that has been truly able to tap into the collective improvement potential of the whole organization through its Lean systems. And when you embrace Kaizen Teian, maybe you as well may one day reach a level of 30 to 40 implemented improvement proposals per annum per employee…
Great article Rob. You nailed it when you differentiating between Suggestion Box vs Kaizen Teian. But what is boundaries or limitation for employee to ally their ideas? What if someone comes up with idea about layout change?
You would typically limit proposals to “my job, my work environment” as you are looking for implemented improvement proposals by the team itself in Kaizen Teian. If a team member has a proposal related to the layout in his/her work environment, this is acceptable. If it is about the global layout, let the team member try it out on a smaller scale, or -if judged relevant- have it escalated to the proper level to discuss it at that level. But the core concept of Kaizen Teian is to have everyone and every team improve their own jobs and processes, and their own direct work environment.
Very interesting paper that truly makes the difference between Lean company putting people at the heart of continuous improvement and other “Leanwashing” company because it should be part of their organization. In our today challenging and competing environment, people motivation and engagement are without doubt a key success factor to achieve great results from an economic and cultural point of view!