Lean Model for Operational Excellence

September 1, 2014
By Darren Dolcemascolo

I have written quite a bit about the Improvement Kata, a methodology for developing the continuous improvement mindset throughout an organization. If we step back to the bigger picture, however, a good question to ask might be "Is there a high level kata or routine for operational excellence?" In this article, I will discuss and propose what we utilize as our model for success.

Lean Improvement Model

Our model begins with strategy deployment. Strategy deployment is the process by which the management team sets the breakthrough goals and objectives for the next 3-5 years. They identify specific improvements to specific financial and operational metrics; this planning activity also involves a process called "catchball." The catchball concept means that all levels of the organization become involved in the process by providing feedback through the ranks. This ensures that the improvement objectives are realistic, and that the organization buys in to the goals. The goals should be organized by major value stream (product line or service).

The next part of our model is Value Stream Mapping. This is the methodology by which value streams (major product lines or services) are mapped and future states with specific targets are developed. A cross-functional team maps the current state, applies lean principles to the current state, and then develops a future state, which represents a picture or blueprint of the next 6 -12 months. This process yields specific targets for improvement.

The third and fourth parts of the model represent the methods by which the improvements actually occur. The third part is labeled "kaizen events and projects." Some of the initiatives identified for improvement might be suited to a project (such as a major software system upgrade) or a kaizen event. A kaizen event is a team-based event for rapid improvment. A small team comprised of front-line workers, support people, and people outside the process work together to improve a particular area or process toward a specific set of goals/targets. Some improvements can be done this way.

The fourth and final piece is labeled "daily kaizen." This represents the idea that everyday we should be working toward improvement. In fact, we want to create a culture of people who think in terms of improvement. The improvement kata is the primary way that we do this. Based on working toward specific targets (identified through Value Stream Mapping), team leaders work toward improvement every day by taking small steps, which are PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) experiments. Over time, the next target is achieved and a new target is set. The target time horizons are typically about 4 weeks.

This entire model can be thought of as a kata or routine. Each year, goals and objectives are set. Specific targets for improvement are set through value stream mapping. The targets are achieved through activities such as projects, kaizen events, and daily kaizen/improvement kata. This model ensures that the improvement work being done is aligned with the organizations' ultimate goals and objectives.

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