Have Kaizen Sessions Become a Crisis Management Tool? Have They Lost Their Continuous Improvement Power?

Companies frequently grapple with the frustration of business inefficiencies. The lack of bandwidth in teams often forces them into a firefighting mode — applying temporary fixes and/or expedites that only mask the problems. These issues then resurface, either in the same form or in a different guise, perpetuating a frustrating cycle.

Supply chain teams often do not have the time to stop and find the root cause while problem-solving. They move from crisis to urgent crisis, and then can enjoy the thrill of being a “firefighter” that continually “saves” the company. Root cause is also forgotten when revamping the supply chain strategy. Some team members feel empowered when they “solve” the current specific crisis. All these reasons add to why companies are not stopping to find the root cause while problem-solving.

This carries a risk of crisis response that becomes unintentionally baked into “normal” operations — meaning the crisis modifications bake productivity loss, inefficiencies, extra costs, and additional working capital into normal modes of operation. A crisis can provide an opportunity to expose where fragility or inefficiency exists and create a moment to think both narrowly and broadly (end-to-end and cross-functional white space) to  process-upgrade the business.

The Importance of Methodology for Mapping Business Processes

A couple of years ago, there was a boom with continuous improvement, LEAN, Six Sigma, Agile, change management, and many other methodologies that, for some companies, were just the buzzwords for the time. Companies that took it seriously and worked to change the internal mindset saw the results and still benefit from continuous improvement processes today.

The others, where it was not adequately implemented and was just a buzz, found it unnecessary, slow, and a bunch of meetings and extra documentation.

In fact, some methodologies are better than others for each problem. Knowing comes with the experience and problem-solving maturity of the business or the supply chain team. We could root cause the problem-solving approaches, but it might take us down a rabbit hole. The easiest path is to handle problem-solving with experienced and knowledgeable professionals. Dedicate a team to it or hire external help.

One of the most common approaches to solving recurrent problems is mapping business processes, which could be using Value Stream Mapping, swim lanes, workflow design, and SIPOC diagrams. When processes are unclear or not well-defined, issues such as chaos, reworks, delays, human errors, system issues, lack of data integrity, lack of ownership/accountability, and thousands more resurface.

A common issue with mapping business processes is employing subject matter-free facilitators. They have the facilitation tools at hand to address issues, but not the content knowledge to help keep the team from going down “rabbit holes” or “SQUIRREL” distractions, or even just to keep the team from focusing on the most recent urgent crisis encountered. A topic content-rich facilitator can use the power of the marker to tease out true insights from the team members, all while keeping the process on track.

Next time you stop by to talk to your teams, pick a specific process and ask them about it. You will find it interesting how many different versions of the same method the managers, coordinators, and analysts have for the same process they are all involved with, commonly providing different end results.

A series of business process mapping workshop sessions brings clarity and control over processes, help identify the root cause of problems, define ownership and accountability, integrate the teams, and help to bring up where collaboration or training is needed. More in-depth, a future ideal process can be defined as a team and become a new strategy goal, where redundancy eliminations, compliance, and standardization are implemented and measured by the importance indicators.

If you are interested in learning more about how LEAN, Six Sigma, and root cause analysis can improve your team’s efficiency and operations results, contact River Rock Advisors.