Project Kaizen

Bringing the power of continuous improvement to the project setting

Establishing a Benchmark for Improvements

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I had the pleasure of working with Norman Bodek a few weeks ago. I asked him to give a keynote speech for a client conference. During his talk he referenced that Japanese companies look for a minimum of two adopted improvements per person per month—24 adopted improvements originated by each employee each year. The benchmark for U.S. firms that paid attention to this used to be 2 per person per year. (I’m not sure what it is now.) Based on Norman’s comments, my client set a target for each person to be the originator of two improvements each month.


Help them get their improvements adopted while encouraging them to improve again on what they have already done.

Turning targets into benchmarks comes down to execution. This level of improvement is achievable, however it takes work. There are many factors that go into success. I’ll mention two in this posting. I’ll come back to the other factors in future postings.


Kaizen is a Team Sport


I’ve noticed a predisposition in the U.S. to individual goals, measurements, and rewards. Targets like 2 per person per month can be interpreted as a threshold for satisfactory performance for each person. It doesn’t work that way. We are far more innovative together than we are as individuals. Further, understanding what to change and what to change to are often the easy part. How to effect the change may require help from many. To succeed at that level of improvement you must make the goal for the team that everyone on the team is the originator of two adopted improvements.


Adopt a Helping Disposition to Change


I hear managers concerned about approving changes before they get adopted. It is a legitimate concern. In a 50 person operation a team meeting its goal would have 100 improvements that would need to go through some sort of process. Unless…you make it the exception to approve proposed changes. Toyota reports they had 1.4 million adopted improvements in a recent year. There’s no way they could achieve that level if each improvement went through an approval process.


Most improvements are small changes. Initiating these changes in a team environment is usually good enough to ensure that a real improvement will be made. No approval is needed. So what is management to do? Stay close enough to the teams’ efforts to help them get their improvements adopted while encouraging them to improve again on what they have already done. The team that wants to spend real money will come with a request. But as Norman Bodek has noted most changes are low cost or no cost. Putting an approval process in between idea and implementation is just waste.


In next week’s post I’ll write about two other factors for succeeding with project kaizen. Don’t miss it. Subscribe to this feed or by email.

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