ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

October 1997


1996 Baldrige Winner Continues To Grow
Information Sharing, Dispersing Control and High Quality Standards Keys to CRI Success

Kaizen Events: Two Weeks To Dramatic Process Improvement
USBI's 'Kaizen Events' Working to Keep NASA Flying

Electronic Monitoring: There's No Place Like Home

When Cultures Collide...
Keep The Best-Lose The Rest


by Peter Block

We...They...Them...And Us
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Letters to the Editor


Kaizen Events: Two Weeks To
Dramatic Process Improvement
USBI's 'Kaizen Events Working to Keep NASA Flying

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.
A Kaizen Event goes basically like this. A cross-functional team of process users is empowered by management to study, identify and immediately implement improvements to a target process. Week One begins with a management "kick off," some team training and a tour of the target process. Then the team digs in using an intense process observation exercise. By mid-week they've completed a flowchart of the old process and are conducting interviews and collecting data to understand the process more thoroughly. They step back for a day or so to consider the actual requirements of the process - what it really needs to accomplish - and begin brainstorming possible improvements. Week One ends with selection of final solutions and flowcharting of the new process.

Week II: Implement
Week Two begins with a "here's-where-we-are-what'ya-think" briefing to management, followed by employee "buy-in" meetings. The next three days are packed with actual implementation of the improved process. Resolution of final issues, a final presentation to management and, yes, a pizza celebration are scheduled for Friday of week two.
So far, USBI has followed this basic process sixteen times, with incredible success. Some examples:

  • Reduced paperwork related to a specific refurbishment process from 1,700 sheets down to just 60 - a 96 percent reduction in paper and an 89 percent reduction in time required to complete paperwork.
  • Improved a post-refurbishment test failure rate from 78 percent to 0 percent failure by implementing solutions discovered by the Kaizen Team.
  • In two weeks: a totally reconfigured shop floor enabling, among other operational benefits, a 60 percent reduction in move time man-hours, 44 percent reduction in move distance and 60 percent reduction in hardware not in work.

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
For those interested in adopting the Kaizen Event technique, understand that three critical factors are key to success: 1) Senior management sponsorship, 2) The right team members, 3) Good facilitator(s).

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."

Oct. '97 News for a Change | Email Editor

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