Issue 21 – June 2015


Issue 21 • June 2015

The Power of the Kaizen Event

I have written on this topic many times, yet the topic bears further discussion. Before I get to kaizen, I want to take a moment to discuss a couple of wonderful people. Few individuals in life are cited as being more influential than teachers and coaches. The month of February took the lives of two great university basketball coaches: Dean Smith, the hall of fame coach of the North Carolina Tarheels, and Jerry Tarkanian, the hall of fame coach from a couple of schools but notably the University of Las Vegas Nevada Rebels.


Both coaches had tremendous success on the court, winning many games, and even championships. But what made them truly special was their ability to manage and deal with diversity. Both coaches recruited inner-city basketball players and integrated them into their universities, their cities, their teams. The more I have been able to read about what these two gentlemen did to bring people together for a common cause, the more I have been impressed. Both coaches took a stand with their students, their universities, and their communities to support and fight for the equality for all human beings.

I have a lot of readers of this newsletter from many different industries, countries, and cultures. While many of you take diversity for granted every day, there was a time, less than three decades ago in the United States, where diversity was not commonplace. When you hear the former players and coaches that played under and worked with these true gentlemen speak of the “Dean” and of the “Tark”, you get a better understanding of just how much they were respected. I can only hope that my eulogy is 1/100th as glowing as these two coaches. May you both rest in peace.

So let’s circle back to lean and the kaizen experience. What does diversity have to do with lean improvement? You may have heard it said that there is no better vehicle to change culture than the kaizen event. This rapid cycle improvement approach, based on A3 thinking, is designed to compress the timeline for results, teach team members lean tools and techniques, and impact the culture of the organization through quickly “seeing and eliminating” waste.

I will repeat this statement I have made many times as well. I am not aware of any organization that has ever changed their culture in a sustainable way using a project approach to continuous improvement. It is simply more difficult to get through the four stages of team development (forming, storming, norming, and performing) in a meaningful way using the project approach.

Today, I am going to add another reason why the kaizen event is an excellent vehicle of culture change. The kaizen event promotes diversity. The kaizen team consisting of management and staff, and/or experts and staff are placed together with a common goal (deliver measurable improvement by eliminating waste), using a common approach (A3 thinking). The team is empowered and supported to make meaningful change for the benefit of the customer. Many organizational walls are torn down in the kaizen event experience. Just like the beloved coaches were diversity pioneers, every kaizen team gets to be pioneers to change the culture of the staff, and the organization in the pursuit of excellence for the benefit of the customer.

Each time you get an opportunity to pursue excellence, be thankful for the experience. Your organization has entrusted in you the opportunity to help change the world for the better. Take advantage of it. It is a special gift.

Lean blessings,


Lean is as easy as 1,2,3…

by Scott Brubaker

What do I mean when I say that “Lean is as easy as 1,2,3…….”?

It is a simple truth that has proven itself in almost every Lean event that I have been a part of over the past decade plus. When it comes to Lean success, I feel that the key lies in blocks 1,2 and 3 of the A3 event preparation document. Recall the A3 is both a form and thinking that applies the scientific method to a specific area to wither solve or problem or deliver an improvement.

Block 1 Reason for Action: provides the first “litmus test”
What is your reason for action? “Why” should your Organization be considering the huge expenditure of resources to conduct a Lean Event? Imagine that for a 4 day period, key Associates will be engrossed in a Lean Event which means that their primary job responsibilities will become secondary for the entire timeframe.

Many may disagree about the “primary job becomes secondary”, but my philosophy is that when you are in a Lean Event, it is your primary focus for the entire week….it must be. The dedication and focus needs to be paramount for each Team Member. This allows for the most significant outcome. I have found this to be an irrefutable truth.

Block 2: Current State: proves whether or not you “know your business” So many times over the years I have seen current state glossed over. What a shame this is…. There is little difference between a poorly completed “current state” and a road map that is only complete for half of the journey. In either case you will start, but you will also get lost or at a minimum, you will have a suboptimal outcome.

In my time as a Repair Locker Officer on a US Navy Destroyer I would always say, “you need to know how to fight a fire before there is a fire”. Likewise, “you need to know your business before you can fix it”.

Finding out that your research was incomplete for the current state is unacceptable and there is simply no excuse. Take the time to properly prepare for the event. Be respectful of your Team’s time. As a minimum standard, I always insist that the Lean Event preparation allows the Team to begin the event week “ahead of the starting line instead of behind it”.

Make the time to “know your business’, as event outcomes will depend upon it.

Block 3: Future State: Strategic, Tactical or combination of desired outcome
In your event preparation you must be able to validate that the desired outcomes can be accomplished within a 12-month time frame. To have a “pie in the sky” future state that the Organization knows it cannot support, afford and or have the infrastructure to make happen and sustain is a recipe for disappointment. If it is not realistic for a 12-month timeframe, then revise it.

One key thought; a minimum expectation of an Event should be to rectify, mitigate or understand how to best move forward with all current state issues. When reviewing A3’s for Lean Events, you must address the current state issues in your future state or there will be a lost opportunity.

A very dangerous aspect of the future state is to over-promise and under-deliver. If this becomes a trend, the Lean effort will lose much credibility. Be very thoughtful.

The “secret sauce” of blocks 2 and 3
What are the measures that you are using to validate the changes? Use the following statement in earnest; “do the measures drive the proper behavior”. Really reflect on this statement.

Utilize the “If we.. Then we” evaluation process to ensure accurate measures. If we improve “this particular” measure, then we will have “this particular” outcome. Be careful here because you may have successful metrics with a failed Lean Event. This is because you are measuring the incorrect areas.

So Lean is as simple as 1,2,3…as long as all blocks are accurate, concise and appropriate.

Virtual Lean Coaching and Mentoring Services Now Available

Many organizations have moved beyond the need for continuous onsite Sensei support. There are multiple reasons for this with the most common being budget constraints, and developed internal expertise. From a Sensei perspective, seeing an organization become self sufficient is our greatest compliment. When we have transferred knowledge and our clients have the methods, techniques, and culture to continue to improve long beyond our engagement, we have done our jobs well.

Many leaders and organizations, however, would benefit from ongoing coaching from an external expert. Breakthrough Horizons is pleased to offer a new service in support of this need.

We have been experimenting with a series of virtual coaching plans to enable your organization to get support, coaching, and critical questions answered without the expense of onsite support and the corresponding travel expenses. Virtual coaching consists of e-mail, phone, and webinar support to give you full access to lean expertise for your continuous process journey.

There currently are two types of virtual lean coaching offerings. The base offering is an annual plan that provides 12 months of support for your critical transformation questions and needs and includes multiple methods of access to lean support and expertise. The second plan has a smaller base fee with a pay as you go feature for access to additional services.

We have effectively utilized virtual coaching with some of our overseas clients for the past year. We feel that with the technology available today, we can deliver similar compelling value in North America at an affordable rate for all organizations.

If your organization has an interest in learning more about virtual lean coaching and how you can benefit from virtual access to specialized lean expertise, feel free to contact me directly at

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