Within my first few months at Batesville Casket Company, I quickly noticed a significant weakness in our lean approach. This weakness is very common among companies that try to follow the lean path of continuous improvement. It’s the lack of total employee involvement (and I’ll stress the TOTAL part).

http://bp3.blogger.com/_OPu--EUUVfY/SIo6V5FM0NI/AAAAAAAAAGY/0Iue8CGtzUQ/s320/IMG_1007.JPG

That is not to say there is not employee involvement in our lean approach. Over the course of our long lean journey to date, we have had some great success in involving many different employees in making improvements, especially on kaizen events. However, most of the involvement was from management. In addition to a lopsided management participation level, we have not pushed ourselves much beyond the manufacturing walls.

The good news is that we recognize this gap in our lean approach, laid out some countermeasures and started actively changing our ways. The most significant countermeasure we have launched is our “My CI” initiative.

From my lean manufacturing study tour in Japan courtesy of the fantastic JKE hosted by Gemba Research, I have learned how many Japanese companies promote, cultivate and embrace the simple kaizen approach implemented by all associates. The cornerstone of Toyota’s success is that company’s improvement and suggestion system by all team members. This process is described in outstanding detail in the exceptional book “The Idea Generator: Quick and Easy Kaizen” by Bunji Tozawa and Norman Bodek. With these examples as a model, we at Batesville have developed our own employee motivation and suggestion program called “My CI”, which is short for My Continuous Improvement.

Basically, we have set up a process for employees to implement improvements, or simple kaizen, which are just simple ideas to make their jobs easier and better. These ideas are described as common and ordinary ideas that are within our control to implement in just a short time (like today). Everything is included, from safety, quality and productivity improvements. If the idea can save one cent or one second, that is good enough.

http://bp0.blogger.com/_OPu--EUUVfY/SIo6vJv45iI/AAAAAAAAAGg/obyR--MufZI/s320/IMG_1006.JPG

As I described more than a year ago about this system and about creating a Kaizen Wall of Fame, we have now created our own Batesville Casket Company Kaizen Wall of Fame as seen in the picture above. So far, three of our five plants have started the process. Since our company is spread out across the globe, and we believe each of our ideas should be celebrated and shared, we have added a virtual Kaizen Wall of Fame on our intranet site to allow associates access to any idea generated in addition to seeing the ideas posted up on the actual wall at each of our sites.

Our goal is to reach a level of total employee participation across the entire corporation (manufacturing, corporate office, logistics, distribution and even sales) where each employee contributes two ideas per month. It is a lofty goal.

About the author:
Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently the lean sensei at Batesville Casket Company in Batesville, Ind. He also writes a blog called “Got Boondoggle?” featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. Check it out at http://gotboondoggle.blogspot.com/.