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Tips for Effective Kaizen Process Improvement

Agile software development and Lean Thinking go hand-in-hand for a number of trainers and practitioners.  Lean Software author Mary Poppendieck said in interview:
"Both Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP) are examples of Lean Thinking applied to developing software. Scrum is an excellent approach to responsibility-based planning and control. XP is a tremendous set of disciplines that enable rapid, repeatable, reliable delivery of code. I particularly like XP´s focus on testing, continuous integration and refactoring. I think of refactoring as constantly improving the code base - it´s sort of like applying kaizen (the Japanese word for continuous improvement) to a software system."
Six-Sigma blackbelt Mike Wroblewski blogged some lessons learned from a recent kaizen session in a manufacturing environment. He sees kaizen as a keystone to process improvement, calling it "One the most powerful and exciting Lean improvement techniques."  Despite significant differences between software and manufacturing environments, the trickiest variable remains the same: people.  So, many of the Lean lessons learned by Wroblewski contain good information for Agile process improvement as well:

Lesson 1. Keep the kaizen training to what is actually needed for the event.
Don't plan a whole day unless that's exactly what you need.

Lesson 2. Provide the kaizen training at the right time.
As we all know, proximity of training to use greatly improves effectiveness.

Lesson 3. Properly scale the scope of the kaizen event.
No use bringing an elephant to the table for a small team to try to eat in a few hours. Focus.

Lesson 4. Measure twice, cut once.
Be clear before rolling out changes that affect others.

Lesson 5. Do not tick off your maintenance support crew.
Please see above.

Lesson 6. Pick the right lean tool for the job and use it well.
There are plenty of lean manufacturing tools to choose - and  there are Lean Software tools, too - thinking tools to help teams customize the right agile practices for their environment.

Lesson 7. Buy-in, Buy-in, Buy-in.
"It may take patience and effort on the part of the team to get buy-in. To be successful, you have no other choice!"

Lesson 8. Watch out for collateral damage.
Because teams don't tend to work in total isolation.

Lesson 9. Keep your kaizen goals simple.
Clear, simple and measurable is best!

Lesson 10. "Go to gemba" and stay there the entire week.
The best place to plan improvements is where they will actually be implemented.

Visit Wroblewski's blog to see the context for these lessons.

Further interesting reading on this blog includes Information Supply Chain Kaizen, and  Point Kaizen, a kaizen focused on one small improvement to be implemented in a matter of a few hours.

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