How not to build a kaizen culture in three easy steps.


  1. Establish some sort of "lean promotion office."
  2. Create a caste system of colored belts, and staff your organization with them.
  3. Tell everyone that the belted elite will lead their improvement efforts.

This is what's happening at my wife's hospital. The "lean team" is responsible for implementing improvement initiatives throughout the hospital. While they're very, very good at these kaizen activities, they have effectively killed any self-initiated improvement work. Doctors, nurses, and staff passively wait for the lean team to turn its focus to their area, and not surprisingly, the pace of improvement is glacial.

Contrast this situation with Quality Bike Parts (QBP), a distributor of bicycle components and products. The company has not only fervently embraced lean at all levels of the organization, they've accomplished the holy grail of embedding lean thinking within the culture. All this while their lean office had precisely one person in it. (It's now up to a whopping two people.)

Nick Graham, the Director of Continuous Improvement, explains that QBP doesn't need people in an office to drive lean throughout the company; they need people on the floor who have the skills to do that. So for each project, Nick enlists a few people within the relevant department to lead the effort. Nick serves as a resource for them, but the people in the department do all the work. The result is tremendous growth in individual problem solving skills, the planting of lean thinking into the company culture, and the creation of a deep bench of people who can -- and do -- pitch in to help other departments with their projects.

Which do you want: the Johnny Appleseed approach, spreading lean seeds that will sprout and bear fruit far and wide throughout the company? Or the Monsanto "terminator seed" approach of Lean Six Sigma Black Belts who parachute in to save the day, but in so doing compromise the learning potential of the company?

 

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