Building a kaizen (event) team
Kaizen doesn’t literally mean a weeklong event with a cross-functional team for focused improvement. However, in many organizations, that’s what it’s come to mean. Regardless of your name for it – kaizen, kaizen event, Rapid Improvement Event, or something else – these focused kaizens are often a part of a lean strategy. As Mike Rother said in his talk at last week’s Northeast Shingo Prize Conference, just because kaizens aren’t what lean should be all about, “that doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Kaizens do not make a lean company, but if you’re going to do them, do them right.
A key component is including the right people. We get many questions on who to include, and why. Pick the right team, and your team may get the job done just like the A-Team. Here’s how we think about the decision.
First, there are two reasons to include someone in a kaizen event. 1. Their input to the process and objective. 2. Their learning.
A third reason, we’ll call it the wild card, is someone in the team just to get them off-balance. Sometimes this is the HR or finance guy in a technical process kaizen, there just to ask the “dumb” question that needs to be asked that no one on the team is willing to ask.
Gaining buy-in is also a consideration, but we prefer not to have to resort to including them in the whole event just to accomplish that one result.
One specific situation that people struggle with is when to include a manager of the process. The idea is often to get those doing the work to lead the improvement.
There are two downsides, both of which can be managed. One is the managers having too much impact or influence. This can be handled by just having conversations in advance with them and setting expectations. When we’re in the kaizen room, there are no roles. We are interested in analysis and ideas, not rank. Also, just watch the behaviors in the room. Be prepared to take someone aside (but outside the room) to give them a little coaching on their behavior. Furthermore, find ways to not just encourage but draw out the voices of people that might be quiet.
The other problem is resources and efficiencies. You don’t want to accomplish a kaizen with 10 people when 5 will do. Therefore we always want to be careful to add people to the team. Sometimes, if we just need someone’s input but they aren’t critical, we can make them an on-call member. That means instead of giving up a week, they pop-in a couple of times a day to see what’s going, we ask any questions that we want, and then they head back to their job.
Matt Wrye, author of the Beyond Lean blog, and an experienced kaizen facilitator, adds the following:
We do consciously decide if we want to add someone from outside the process to participate. Sometimes it isn’t appropriate, but quite often it is. We call it “fresh eyes”. Just like you mentioned, it is someone who isn’t an expert in the process so the obvious isn’t so obvious and the simple questions are asked. Usually, we try to find someone that is a fill in for the process when the regular person isn’t there or someone who worked in the process before but hasn’t for at least year. It has benefited our groups every time.
When a couple voices dominate the discussion, I work hard to make a conscious effort to ask the people not getting to talk to give their opinion. I might say something like, “Great thought (person who talks a lot). What are your thoughts on that (person who isn’t getting a chance to talk)?” Pull them in while silencing the other person in a polite way. This isn’t always easy but when I have done it well, it has been effective.
Sticking team members in a room with a facilitator is not enough. You have to stick the right people in the room. This is a huge investment. Make it count.
What criteria do you use when building a kaizen team?