What a long strange trip it's been (that's a logistics and a Grateful Dead reference) and with this month's article we will not only complete the PDCA methodology, but also bring to a close our journey through the world of Kaizen.
By this time in your PDCA process, you've PLANned, DOne, CHECKed and have a pretty good idea that you've solved root cause with your well-documented and thoroughly worked problem. You've gathered data, brainstormed and implemented a new process, and used the same data to prove that your solution works – the sky has cracked open, Dame Fortune hath smiled down, and you have solved your issue. The new process you implemented in DO was validated in CHECK and now all that is left is to make the change permanent(ish). In other words, you've discovered the solution and now it's time to ACT on it.
The ACT phase is the final step of improvement and is actually the simplest because you've already done everything before. You've made your rule, you've followed your rule and now you have improved your rule – so, it's time to make a new rule. That is what the ACT phase is – take this new process you've created and standardize it.
Update Your SOPs and Train Your Staff
You might be surprised how many times process improvements are created that move mountains but ultimately fail because key staff are not made aware of the change; then again, you might not be surprised. It is the moment when you've solved an issue that standardization becomes critical. You must update all documentation, including your keen visual tools.1, 2 Then get a bunch of folks in a room and tell them all about it. Teach them how to do it. Show them the updated visualization tools and then make them sign a roster – that adds accountability to the employees and to management.
Share It with the World
Or at the very least, the rest of your company. You have just solved a very daunting problem. You are probably not the only team that has (or eventually will have) this issue. Sharing with the rest of your peers is a great way to save them the energy of floundering around in the dark. This is a concept called "best practices."
Improve Your Improvement
You have solved this issue and made this particular process better, but that doesn't mean you let it drop off of your radar. Continue monitoring, look for opportunities and Do it all again! That is the beauty of Kaizen and quality. You make the rule, follow the rule and improve the rule, which leads to a new rule! Then you follow that rule and look to improve it and the band plays on and on. The key to a robust Kaizen culture is to never stop looking for opportunities to improve. Remember the red car from an early article: Always question basic assumptions, even if they are newly created basic assumptions.3
Remember, Kaizen is not, or ever has been, a means to reduce people into cogs in a machine. Its purpose is to empower employees to take ownership of the processes they perform and to give them to the ability, the language and, quite honestly, the challenge to make them better. It's a tool for management to support wisdom of the organization and by doing so, lets the processes that are working work so that only the anomalies stick out and get attention.
As we complete our journey with Kaizen, please allow me to express gratitude to all those who came along for the ride. This has been an incredibly rewarding "baker's dozen" of articles, live talks and webinars, and I am proud to have been a (small) part of all your business lives. To ask questions, share stories, and keep in touch, please feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Best wishes in all your Kaizen endeavors!
Kirk White has worked in every division of Yusen Logistics. After a brief stint in Transportation, he transferred to Corporate, where he coordinated Yusen's Employee Empowered Kaizen system and served as a Specialist for the Business Process Re-engineering group, after which he moved to the Warehouse division to serve as the East Coast Quality Manger before ultimately joining the International division, where he hopes to use his Quality knowledge base to prove an asset to OCM.
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