Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action

Several days ago, during a health care value stream analysis, I was impressed with the team's bias for action. Now we know that value stream mapping is typically a "paper" activity, but it was refreshing to see that one of the future state's kaizen bursts, identified as a "just-do-it," couldn't wait. The team completed the just-do-it right before the wrap-up presentation. Outstanding!

Kaizen is founded on certain principles, one of which is a bias for action. This bias for action is largely a behavioral thing, but it can be facilitated by effective coaching, formal training, and the application of lean management systems and related visual controls that should absolutely scream for action.

Of course, it's worth mentioning my "short list" of kaizen principles (see the Kaizen Event Fieldbook), because I think we need to have a holistic perspective and because together they should drive the right kind of bias for action. I call this my 10 + 1 list. I'm pretty sure that other lean practitioners can make some  great arguments for a few more, but I wanted to keep the list relatively short.

  1. Think PDCA and SDCA, the basic scientific methods.
  2. Go to the gemba; observe and document reality.
  3. Ask "why?" five times to identify root causes.
  4. Be dissatisfied with the status quo.
  5. Kaizen what matters.
  6. Have a bias for action.
  7. Frequent, small incremental improvements drive big, sustainable improvements.
  8. Be like MacGyver; use creativity before capital.
  9. Kaizen is everyone's job.
  10. No transformation without transformation leadership.

Plus - Do everything with humility and respect for the individual.

The combined dissatisfaction with the status quo (eyes for waste  "see" the current state and the ideal state) and the existence of explicit performance gaps that are targeted for closure (kaizen what matters) should be unbearable enough to drive action. And, our action should be focused on appropriately and economically (MacGyver was a creative cheapskate) addressing the root causes (5 why's and PDCA thinking) and then sustaining the performance (SDCA).

So, I'll leave you with another bias for action story, surprisingly also within a value stream analysis backdrop. Tony, the plant manager, was participating in a combined value stream analysis/plant lay-out/3P activity for a brand new line. As we developed pro forma standard work and were doing table top and plant floor simulations applying, among other things continuous flow, he had a eureka moment. Actually, I noticed that he was becoming quite agitated and then...he disappeared. Over an hour later, Tony returned. He informed the team that he couldn't stand it when he realized that the same principles needed to be applied to existing lines. So, right away, he made sure that the other lines (granted, without standard work at the time) stop their evil batch and queue ways and go to single piece flow. By the next day, the old lines had demonstrated an 18% productivity improvement (and yes, this was sustained). Now, that's bias for action!

Related posts: Ready! Fire! Aim!…Maybe, We Should Have REALLY Simulated First!?, Kaizen Principle: Be Like MacGyver, Use Creativity before Capital!

There are 6 Comments

markrhamel's picture

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for the comment! You're right, too often we think that kaizen has to be more like kaikaku (large scale change). Furthermore, clearly not every improvement should come from kaizen events. Instead, we need to move to principle-driven kaizen where most of the kaizen activity is what we call daily kaizen and the minority is system-driven (typically value stream improvement pulled stuff). Daily kaizen is conducted by engaged and empowered employees and is usually smaller, more incremental in nature. Just think how powerful daily kaizen is when the workforce is enthusiastically driving it!

Best regards,

Mark Welch's picture

Nice post, Mark. My only comment would be just a little note of caution to the manager went out and changed some of those processes to one piece flow... If a process isn't yet ready for it - not robust enough - not enough foundational practices in place - one can wind up with quite a train wreck! I've seen this happen more than once.

I hope it's continuing to work!

markrhamel's picture

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the comment. Great point! No worries on that particular manager, he had enough insight based upon the pro forma standard work that was developed for the new line, sizing of the FIFO lane (cure time divided by takt time), etc. Yes, it was a bit risky, but the improvements were sustained/late supported by the necessary standard work, visual controls, et al.

Best regards,

Andrew Bishop's picture

I use a list of "kaizen principles" not dissimilar to yours, but for me the overriding principle is "MAKE WORK EASIER."

This will engage the front line like nothing else, it will improve safety, delivery, quality and cost, and it shows management's commitment to lead with a strong bias for action.

We've been engaged recently in launching a new value stream. The daily conversations with workers, both formal (end of the shift meeting) and informal ("how's it going?") have provided a constant stream of problem identification and improvement ideas that make work easier. These only matter if we live the bias for action and make the changes. I wish we had the same level of dynamism in our established processes! That's the goal.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Andrew,

I like that! "Make work easier," in the proper context, drives people to root out the 7 wastes and really addresses the benefits to the stakeholders!

I've found that new value streams, like greenfield operations, are often easier than trying to improve existing value streams. I think a lot of it is the fact that folks are less likely to be anchored, consciously or unconsciously, to the pre-existing.


Kevin McLoughlin's picture

I noticed #7 on your list- frequent, small changes drive big, sustainable improvements. Good reminder that every kaizen does not need to re-invent the wheel, as the impact of all the events are cumulative.