Sustaining Change – Making a Real Difference With Kaizen

A question I hear a lot is “how do we sustain our changes?” I wanted to share a question one of the lean experts I’ve trained in the past asked David Meier (Author and founder of Lean Associates Inc http://www.leanassociates.com/about.php):

Question from lean expert:
What are best practices from sustaining improvements after kaizen events/activities?

Answer from David Meier:
Bill — This is a bigger question than it appears. People don’t sustain things for many reasons. The main reason I think is that they were not part of the process of developing the improvement (even if they were on the team). One other reason is that kaizen is not an “event” anyway. It is a mindset and it means that things should improve AFTER the event, not just sustain.

Very often in a kaizen event, due to the short timeframe, the ideas generated are not perfected. It is easier for people to “go back” to what they knew before than to tweak the new method. Remember I said that the learning takes about 10 times longer than the process change. So if you do a 1 week kaizen then it will take people 10 weeks to adapt to the new method — and they need regular coaching and follow-up during that time (usually from the team leader and group leader). People need to learn how to refine and perfect the ideas generated during a kaizen event.

I want to expand on a couple of points: 1) Mindset is the key to lean 2) Change takes time because learning takes time.
Mindset Change:
“Kaizen is not an event” in other words it is just what we do. Kaizen roughly translates to continuous improvement and the most successful companies that implement lean don’t have “Kaizen events.” Continuous improvement is just how they run their business. A problem is noticed, a few people on the line get together and solution the problem very quickly and then implement the solution and then move on. From a previous posting “It’s the Culture Dummy” we mentioned that culture is 80% the impact so keep that in mind when running or working in a lean environment.

Change Takes Time Because Learning Takes Time:
In our instant gratification culture we want change now! Unfortunately that is not the way the world works. How often did people learn how to write the perfect essay after 1 draft? How many people are expert chess players after 1 game? The same concept applies to lean learning. To learn a new process and a new way of thinking it takes about 10x the time it did to implement the change. If an event takes 1 week it takes about 10 weeks to really learn the process. Constant guiding and coaching is needed to make sure that the learning happens. If there is no coaching/guiding then the process will revert back to the old process and there is nothing gained from the initial change.

How is your organization learning? How does your organization make change?