The 4th of 5 Core Values that MME employees work to follow is founded on the idea that each day we are all striving for continuous improvement in our professional and personal lives.

Recently, nine MME employees got together for a four day “Kaizen” marathon, led by MME Program Manager Tim Reberg. What’s Kaizen? Kaizen is a Sino-Japanese word (originating from Chinese) that translates to “improvement” or “good change”. A project or process is broken down step-by-step, piece-by-piece, with an objective of finding the most streamlined procedures to maximize efficiency.

The best way to describe the results of a Kaizen event is eliminated waste. Finding the waste can be as simple as noticing something visual (moving a parts box closer to an assembler for quicker access), or strategically investigating a system to reveal flaws that would otherwise go unnoticed. That’s why Kaizen can be so useful. It is a window of time that encourages the active purge of speed bumps, and the discovery then elimination of elements that aren’t helpful.

Kaizen is also a chance to get direct feedback in a positive atmosphere from your most valuable asset — the employees on the floor who are submerged in the project every day. “Participation from production employees is very important as they possess intimate knowledge of the process and what the issues and opportunities are,” Program Manager Reberg says.

Since it would be easy to just rehash information about Kaizen you can find easily online with a Google search, below is list some specific points that we include during our Kaizen events that may be helpful if you’re planning or participating in your own.


1. Gain support and specify the target.

Don’t start yet!

“The best advice I can give anyone planning a Kaizen event,” Reberg says, “is to first secure management’s support. Without that, the event will not succeed.”

It works well to identify the activity or process you want to improve prior to the event so that there are defined terms, while leaving room for discovery.

A beautiful thing about Kaizen is that you don’t need to be addressing a negative. You can “Kaizen” something that already is working pretty well, even when it’s reaching expectations or meeting quota. That is continuous improvement.

Our Kaizen was aimed at the final three assembly stations of an important customer’s product. We chose these three stations because they were identified as having potential for the most improvement.


2. Recruit employees from different areas.

Ideally, the majority of the team is familiar with the project and understands the basics. However, increase the range of perspectives by including those who have different responsibilities. Reberg adds, “It’s important to select a diverse team ranging from people

who have never been exposed to the process or product being Kaizen’d, all the way through to the experts.”

If it’s available to you, even try to include a “wild card” member. This is somebody from a different part of the company entirely who’s there to throw out questions that get the team thinking outside the box, or propose ideas or changes that might go overlooked by someone who’s already deep into the process that’s being improved.


3. Timing.

Find a string of consecutive days that are dedicated to the event. This will help reduce distractions and keep focus on the improvements. Also, confirm beforehand with each team member that the event is not interfering too much with their other duties. You’ll get the most in return if each person is 100% engaged and not worried about other things.


4. Lay out the plan.

There should be a designated leader of the event. This person is responsible for driving all team meetings. For us, 3 meetings per day during the event is the minimum.

The leader should clearly explain what Kaizen is, why the people who are there were invited, and train the team about the expectations. “Training materials tailored to the experience level of the team is a must” Reberg states.

Also, prepare a schedule for each day. Ours looks something like this:

Morning meeting: 8:00 – 9:00

Work out on floor: 9:00 – 12:00

Lunch: 12:00 – 12:45

Afternoon meeting (and brainstorming): 12:45 – 2:00

Work out on floor: 2:00-4:00

Meeting: 4:00-4:30


5. Draw visuals and include things that are easy to see.

We draw a Spaghetti Diagram that traces the current path of the worker(s) during assembly. This provides a bird’s eye view of their movements and makes it easier to diagnose where parts and components can be moved to decrease time in between steps.

After the event, you can re-draw the Spaghetti Diagram to visualize the number of steps (time) that have been saved.

During daily meetings, the leader can write in marker on large easel paper important details. This information can be hung on the wall for easy viewing.


6. Standardize Improvements

If you are able to eliminate waste and find new processes to improve efficiency, make the changes you made the standard. Retrain the employees that work in the process and get the new steps in writing as the new normal.

Reberg explains, “Creating visual management tools, one-piece flow manufacturing, workstation organization, high quality yields and standard work ensure that day-to-day manufacturing operations are much more predictable.”


7. Have Fun!

Reberg concludes, “Kaizen is an excellent tool to solicit employee engagement. They experience the satisfaction of seeing their ideas were heard and are being put to use. This is a big boost to employee morale.”


Other things to keep in mind:

  • If your intentions don’t include reducing labor, make sure employees know beforehand that the goal of a Kaizen event is not to lay anybody off, but rather eliminate process waste and/or redirect resources to other areas of the project or company that need help. The goal is to make people’s jobs easier, not get rid of them.
  • On the final day of the Kaizen event, invite employees to a PowerPoint presentation that walk them through the 4 days, and share your results! Positive news is always good to share, and improvements are encouraging while reinforcing the “continuous improvement” mindset company-wide.


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