We received a call from a kaizen facilitator who was concerned that their suggestion system was losing steam. We went to their Gemba to find out what was going wrong. This company was receiving plenty of suggestions. They had copies of Norman Bodek’s Quick & Easy Kaizen workbooks and kept the ideas simple and small.
They are a high volume food processing operation. Many of the suggestions were related to small modifications to the processing lines and equipment to make them safer, easier to operate, cleaner, for pokayoke (mistake proofing) or to enable quick changeover. This made it difficult for the operators to actually implement the ideas themselves, an important aspect of a healthy and sustained suggestion system.
In the case of this company, there were too many things the maintenance team needed to do between kaizen newspaper action items from kaizen events and all of the workers’ good suggestions. This resulted in a perception by the workers that the management was not supporting the suggestion system. This was not the case, but management also needed to keep costs down and could not justify hiring additional skilled maintenance workers.
We introduced them to the skill matrix, a simple and visual tool to show who has training and experience in what skill. Here is an example of a skill matrix that is used in our office, and here is a skill matrix template
They found that certain people had some mechanical skill and even maintenance experience. These people could take on some of the simpler equipment modifications or assist in the maintenance crew on bigger projects. As a resultof using the skill matrix to involve workers in the implementation, they are completing suggestions quicker. The kaizen facilitator reports that the workers are coming up with better (smaller and more practical) kaizen ideas.
This led to further discussion with their management of the need for a full TPM program including Autonomous Maintenance and developing the maintenance skills and mindset of the operators. They have a focus on OEE as a metric but had not yet made the link with a cross-functional Total Productive Maintenance effort.
Once again, investing in people was the key to a sustaining Lean manufacturing results and developing a kaizen culture.