Sunday, April 3, 2011

Barn-Raising Kaizen

A good friend of mine has an approach to process improvement that he calls "Barn-Raising Kaizen."    If you don't know what barn-raising is, here's a quick excerpt from Wikipedia:
"A barn raising is an event during which a community comes together to assemble a barn for one or more of its households, particularly in 18th- and 19th-century rural North America."
It's all about community, teamwork, and just getting it done.  I love it.

My friend uses the barn-raising concept when facilitating improvements out on the shopfloor.  He'll gather the folks together, get some ideas flowing, and then implement changes right there on the spot.  Then they'll monitor the changes, check results, and make adjustments...again, right there on the spot.  It all happens in this informal, team-oriented atmosphere that resembles the barn-raising events of yesteryear.  No prolonged data collection, no measurement system analysis, no project charter, no gate reviews...just kaizen.

So, is "barn-raising" kaizen effective?

You certainly won't get your Six Sigma Black Belt using the barn-raising kaizen approach, but it can be incredibly effective.  Because the changes are made so quickly, we get more chances to iterate...more turns of the PDCA wheel.  With each iteration, we get a chance to learn what works and what doesn't.  We're not at our computer using Mini-Tab to produce a control chart; we're out at the gemba looking at the gembutsu.

Also, every time we do barn-raising kaizen, we get another chance to practice problem-solving and build our kaizen muscles.  Have you read Toyota Kata yet?

But, how do you know if you've improved?

The fear is that without having a data collection plan, measurement system analysis, etc., we'll be in the dark when it comes to proving whether the changes worked or not.  This probably has more to do with trying to show a good ROI than it does with actually understanding how a change impacted a process.  If we're out at the gemba, we can usually see the impact with our own eyes.  We don't always need data, except to show ROI on paper.

Are you saying a more thorough approach, like DMAIC, is a waste of time?

Not at all.  Some repairs call for a hammer, and others call for a power drill.  It depends on the problem we're trying to solve, the information that is available, the stakeholders involved, and a whole lot more.  My suggestion is that we should not lock ourselves into any one way of bringing about improvement.  Use what works for whatever situation is presented.

On a somewhat related topic, Pete Abilla at the Shmula blog compared the PDCA and DMAIC approaches (link).