But what does it really mean to “sustain” the gains from a kaizen event. All too often we come out of a kaizen with new target lines on our metric graphs and assume that as long as we’re at or above we’re sustaining. It’s easy to stand back and watch the results for a few weeks, see the goal lines being met, and then move on to the next area. After all, we’re sustaining, right?
The problem is that without ongoing improvement effort (not just sustaining) our processes will gradually degrade. The Second Law of Thermodynamics demands it. I think the problem is the very word, “sustain”. It has a connotation of stability and even stagnation. This is not the way of continuous improvement. We need to redefine what it means to sustain a lean effort. Here are a few simple suggestions as requirements for sustaining:
· Expiration dates on your targets. Goals should not be static. It should be explicitly stated that a progressive increase in performance is expected, not just indefinite maintenance of the current goal. This helps drive everyday improvements until the next breakthrough is required.
· What’s next? I think that part of wrapping up and reporting out on any kaizen event should be defining and planning for the next event. As the current layer of waste is peeled back, what opportunities lie beneath to be tackled in the future?
· Identify an owner. It’s always important to identify a process or value stream owner, but it’s equally important for them to understand they are the architect for future improvement. Assuming the journey is never complete, someone must be actively charting a course once the experts leave.
We’ve all seen the benefits from an intense and focused improvement effort slowly erode over time. We might blame it on lax management or technical problems that go unsolved. But I believe that it mostly stems from an attitude that once the initial improvements are made, we’re done. The rest is just sustaining. You can’t even blame it on complacency since it’s often driven by a desire to “move on” to the next challenge. Instead it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what it actually means to sustain.