Asiantuntija-artikkeleita | 05.02.2020

Kaizen. How to find time for continuous improvement?

The KAIZEN philosophy focuses on continuous improvement of processes in the organisation. It means a long-term improvement, step by step, every day, performed by EVERY employee – starting from the management and ending with regular employees. It would seem that the application of the KAIZEN principle only requires the inclusion of a thought process at every stage of production – but this is only a theory. And how does it look in practice?

How much time do foremen and managers – people who manage the teams and who are closest to the production process – devote to improve processes in the organisation or even to analyse them, and how much time do administrative activities take them? I admit that I have never met with research results in this area. However, I have often heard similar answers – ”we spend too much time on administration”, ”our staff does not have time to fully use their competences”, etc. As it turned out, in practice, people in managerial positions often deal with things, which they shouldn’t do and which take a lot of time. We can include, for example:

  • creating a production schedule – determining what, where and in what order will be realised,
  • planning the working time of employees – determining who and when should appear at work,
  • mediation in communication between employees and the HR department in the organisation – colloquially saying ”being secretaries of employees”.

Production scheduling, work time planning or administration and HR activities are very much needed and this is beyond doubt. However, they do not have to take so much time. Using appropriate automation of selected processes, we can improve their ”quality” while significantly reduce the time needed for their realisation.

Production scheduling
Operational planning of production tasks by foremen or managers is a common practice. In this situation, the planning department verifies only the overall balance of production capacity, and detailed planning is performed at the very ”bottom”. Why is it like that? One of the reasons may be the lack of standardised technological data, parameters of the manufacturing process and the lack of reliable data on the current use of machinery and tools. This approach makes whole scheduling extremely subjective. We do not focus on the overall synchronisation of the production planning process, but only on its individual micro areas. It is extremely important to change the way of thinking and look at production as a whole – a complicated and demanding process that requires commitment and work at the very beginning – when making changes in business processes and changing the organisation’s approach to these activities. Do not be afraid of these changes – there is a lot of work, but the effects are worth it.

So where then should you start to change? First of all, it is necessary to determine how the production control process works – who, with whom and when communicates. Secondly, it is necessary to standardise technological data and process parameters. We must ensure that the data we use are reliable. What I mean are all the areas that influence the production process – supply, maintenance, sales, etc. In carrying out these basic activities, we should focus on the business goals that the company wants to achieve, e.g. reduction of changeover times, minimisation of the level of production in progress, etc. Only in the next step can we focus on the automation of processes. Thanks to the use of the APS system (e.g. ASPROVA), the entire scheduling process, taking into account all defined process limitations, including optimisation criteria (business goals), will take us a few minutes. And basically, not us but the Production Planning Department. People who have dealt with this so far – foremen or managers – should receive a ready schedule. Instead of creating it from the beginning, I can focus on its implementation, and spend the saved time on e.g. process analysis – verification of deviations from the plan, finding errors.

Work time planning
Another task that foremen or managers are often charged with is planning the working time of subordinate employees. How do they do it? On paper, sometimes in spreadsheets by selecting ”X” on a given day for a specific employee. It may work ”somehow”, but is such a plan precise and how long does it take to prepare it? It depends on how many elements we have to include in it – vacation, sick leave, joint commuting of employees to work, selection of employees according to competencies, taking into account the provisions of the Labour Code, etc. This is a standard, and what if the company has an equivalent working time with a settling period of several months? All this makes the work time planning to take a lot of valuable time and it can be burdensome. Fortunately, there is a solution for this. There are systems that allow us to create a work schedule tailored to our needs with one click. XPRIMER.TPL offers such possibilities, in which we can include the following data:

  • employee competences (e.g. those which the prepared production plan includes),
  • provisions of the labour code,
  • company internal regulations,
  • individual employee preferences,
  • principles of internally adopted staff planning strategy (e.g. if we want to plan the work of full-time employees in the first place, plan work evenly on Saturdays, etc.).

XPRIMER.TPL with one click is able to take into account all this data and plan the work in our organisation. On what to spend the time saved? I’ll go back to the beginning again – to analyse and further improve the production process..

Communication with the administration and HR
In one of the companies where each foreman manages about 50 people, I heard the sentence – ”we don’t want our foremen to be secretaries of employees!” Each employee’s question about an available vacation, any vacation application, an application for an income or employment certificate is a waste of time for the immediate supervisor. Automation of these processes using an HRM system (e.g. XPRIMER.HRM) allows for faster, easier administration, additionally expanded by the so-called employee self-service. Therefore, not only the manager benefits, but also the employee who through the info-kiosk can check all information regarding his position, e.g. the number of remaining vacation days to be used or the current work schedule. In addition, the employee can independently enter a vacation application, application for a certificate or, e.g. verify his/her payroll bar without having to contact his/her supervisor or trip to the HR department.

This approach allows us not only to gain time, but above all to provide better work comfort for both parties – the manager and the employee. It also means financial savings and greater control over regulations. The role of foremen and managers is limited only to the processes of accepting or rejecting applications received without having to deal with unnecessary paperwork. Eliminating them from many of these processes allows you to save time without having to forward paper documents.

Takie podejście pozwala nam nie tylko zyskać na czasie, ale przede wszystkim zapewnić lepszy komfort pracy dla obydwu stron – kierownika i pracownika. To także oszczędność finansowa i większa kontrola nad przepisami. Rola brygadzistów i kierowników zostaje ograniczona jedynie do procesów akceptacji lub odrzucania otrzymanych wniosków bez konieczności załatwiania zbędnej papierologii. Wyeliminowanie ich z wielu z wspomnianych procesów pozwala na zaoszczędzenie czasu bez konieczności przekazywania dalej papierowych dokumentów.

All the examples of ”manual” production scheduling, inefficient planning of working time or excessive involvement in administrative activities cited above give me some reflection. In companies we can meet people with vast knowledge and experience, who could not only participate but even become a driving force of continuous improvement if only they had time. Instead of using their competences, giving them a chance for development, we involve them in a huge number of tasks, often purely administrative. Tasks that can be quite easily automated. Is it logical?

Michał Żelichowski
member of the board of the eq system


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