Baldrige Winner Continues To Grow
Kaizen Events: Two Weeks To Dramatic Process Improvement
Kaizen Events: Two Weeks To
Every time a solid rocket booster fires to propel a NASA space shuttle toward its lofty goal, the work and worth of USBI is on the line. This is the story of how a streamlined process improvement technique called 'Kaizen Events' is helping USBI keep America's space program - and its own effectiveness - up where it belongs.
USBI is a 1,000-employee division of Pratt & Whitney (United Technologies) and a prime contractor to NASA at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They perform a critical maintenance function on solid rocket boosters - stripping components to bare metal, then applying required thermal protective coatings. USBI's responsibilities, and the highly-scrutinized environment within which they are performed, demand that continuous quality improvement be integral to their existence.
The company has had formalized quality improvement activities in place since the 1980s, when USBI first instituted quality circles, with limited success. In 1990, USBI hired David Tucker to establish and integrate a total quality management process. "By 1994, our ongoing efforts had resulted in 186 completed projects which improved operations and provided cost avoidance and cost savings of over $10 million," explains Tucker. "However, we knew our implementation of TQM was in trouble." Although he is a believer in a structured, long-term approach to TQM, Tucker had over the course of four years become convinced of some disappointing, perhaps inevitable, realities of TQM at USBI: lengthy project cycles, lack of management follow-through and/or effective implementation and a high propensity for team burnout.
About that time, Tucker first heard the term 'Kaizen Event' from a Pratt & Whitney senior executive. He learned that a Kaizen Event is, essentially, an accelerated improvement technique, designed to dramatically improve virtually any process in only two weeks. The Japanese term is actually derived from two Chinese words: "kai," which means "to take apart and make new," and "zen," which means "to think about, so as to help others." The literal interpretation happens to be very accurate. Tucker describes it succinctly as, "The swift, efficient and deliberate application of common sense."
Week I: Define The Problem. Create The Solution.
Week II: Implement
With such remarkable success to date, have Kaizen Events replaced USBI's structured TQM approach? Not quite. Says Tucker, "Kaizen Events have become our primary means to foster continuous improvement at our company. We have not thrown the structured program out. We have simply added Kaizen Events as a major tool of the on-going effort."
The Keys To Kaizen
The potential rewards of Kaizen Events are significant. Tucker suggests the technique works so well because it is built upon the three fundamentals of successful change - communication, personal identity and action. Says Tucker, "Kaizen Events provide a forum for employees to communicate, become personally involved and take immediate action, while generating dramatic leaps in improvement for any business process. As for USBI, we feel the technique is definitely helping us do our part to help keep America flying in space."