The Eight-Step Process
The following are the eight steps used in Kaizen (continuous improvement):
- Clarify the Problem: The starting point is to understand how the current process works. This is done by writing down each of the steps in a process. Often you will find that no one person knows the entire process. Working with a team from your area is key to understanding the entire process.
Once you understand the steps in the process, the team can develop the “Ideal or Future State” of how you think the process could or should work better. For example, a clinic visit can be made shorter by eliminating waits between steps (see Figure 2).
- Break Down the Problem: In this step, the team works together to determine what part of the process you would like to work on first. Identifying where the most muda (or waste) is found can provide the needed insight to begin working. In the above clinic example, the most time was spent after seeing the provider waiting for check out.
- Target Setting: It is important to find an objective way to know if the changes you make to the process made a difference. Setting a goal helps the team to know when they have reached the target. A goal using the clinic example is: Reduce the total clinic cycle time (time patient leaves the provider to the time the patient checks out) from 40 minutes to less than 5 minutes by June.
- Root Cause Analysis: When fixing problems, it is important to make sure you are dealing with the real issue. One technique used is “The Five Whys”. Many times the problem is a result of many other issues. Asking “why” allows an organization to uncover layers of what caused the problem. The first inquiry of “why” can expose a superficial reason for the problem. The fifth inquiry of “why” can help expose the origin of the problem. Root cause analysis requires a team to further investigate and get to the underlying reason the problem is occurring so the most effective solutions can be identified and implemented.
- Develop Counter Measures: A counter measure is a potential solution to the problem. Rarely is there one thing that you can do that will fix the entire problem. By prioritizing solutions and testing them one at a time, the team will be able to know which one(s) is/are making a difference.
- See Counter Measures Through: It is easy to say, “that will never work”, or “we tried that before”. It is important to be willing to try agreed upon counter measures and see them through before abandoning ideas. It may take several counter measures working in concert to impact change.
- Evaluate both Results and Processes: It is important for the team to go back to the target goal and assess how the counter measures are working. If something has been tried, but was not found to be successful then it is time for the team to put their heads together and come up with new ideas and go through the above steps again.
- Standardize Successful Processes: When counter measures are successful, a determination needs to be made on who can benefit from the changes and how best to spread the improvements. By spreading positive changes, the whole organization can benefit.