In th KaiNexus webinar that I did with Dr. Greg Jacobson earlier this week (“Making Time for For Continuous Improvement” – view the recording), I shared a graph that shows what could or should be time for continuous improvement in a workplace.
The red line shows the amount of time available – this could be hours in a shift, hours in a day, time in a week, or time available in the year. This amount of time is generally fixed, although we can sometimes adjust the working time in a day. A manufacturing company can go from two 8-hour shifts to three. A hospital, however, usually has the limit of 24 hours in a day (although some clinics or departments could increase the open hours or all departments could add staff to increase the number of work hours available).
The blue line represents fluctuating “direct work” which could be time interacting with patients and charting, in a hospital, or it could represent time doing value-adding work in a factory.
Some organizations make good use of this time. As time is available during a “slow time” (throughout the day or throughout the year), staff and leaders are well served by a ready list of Opportunities for Improvement that are waiting to be worked on (on a bulletin board or in software like KaiNexus).
Unfortunately, some organizations (especially hospitals) will choose to send employees home early during a slow time… essentially lowering the red line and losing an opportunity for improvement. They might be saving some money in the short term by reducing labor costs, but how much does that cost them in the long term as a result of quality or safety not being improved through Kaizen? Toyota NEVER sends people home early if they are in a situation where people can't do direct work (due to parts shortages or equipment breakdowns). They would use that time for training or Kaizen… investing in people instead of saving money.
There's another unfortunate situation that somebody brought up on Twitter.
Oops. Well, that's a really tough situation. What that chart shows, to me, is a situation that's understaffed… and/or there's too much waste in the system. It's a pretty common situation.
You can't do Kaizen in a situation like that. As it stands, with that as a starting point, people are being forced to cut corners, work late, or they're barely getting by. They won't have the mental or physical energy for Kaizen, I bet.
It seems that you have a few choices:
1) You could increase staffing levels or add working hours through overtime… as a temporary measure to get the red line above the blue and have a fighting chance to do Kaizen.
2) You could try to radically reinvent the process in some way through a Rapid Improvement Event or such… but it's going to be tough to do that without involving and engaging staff by freeing up their time to participate in the event.
Which chart illustrates your organization? If you're in the situation of the second chart, how do you get out of that situation?
Oh, and here's a companion post that I wrote for the KaiNexus Blog: “The Continuous Improvement Death Spiral, and How to Get Out of It.”
Check it out…