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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: The key is to learn to level the workload for improvement

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, March 30, 2014 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

The Lean Edge: How do you make time for improvements?

As CEO of my company I have a grasp of lean and have experienced it in my career, but now that I’m CEO, I find it difficult to ask my people to make time for improvement work. They’re already completely busy doing their regular work. Moreover, this company is in the outdoor sports industry, and many people join these companies because they want time to climb, backpack, canoe, etc., and I’m reluctant to ask them to work more hours and sacrifice time for these activities. Any advice?”

I believe the key to making time for improvement is the equivalent of leveling the workload (Heijunka). How can we level the workload of time we spend on improvement? The answer is by smoothing it out and doing a little bit everyday. Even 15 minutes of work everyday, with appropriate coaching, can be very effective. In fact, based on how people learn, 15 minutes a day for 5 days is far more efficacious then 75 minutes once per week which is far more effective for learning then a one week kaizen blast once a quarter. Some individuals may have a larger role in the improvement and thus have to spend more hours at times like an engineer or maintenance person or supporting kaizen team. And at some points someone responsible for a specific project will need to work overtime. But this is not something everyone on the team needs to do.

Think of learning in two ways. First through PDCA we learn something about what works or does not work which leads to the next PDCA cycle to test the next item so we are learning how to improve the process. Second, each PDCA cycle is a PDCA cycle for our brains teaching us the process of PDCA and how to think more effectively. In both cases, many small, rapid iterations are more effective then a big blast of implementing and trying to absorb a mountain of information.

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