KAIZEN™ in the Service Sector
Senior Project Manager, Telekom Hungary and
Trainer and Consultant, Kaizen Institute Hungary
Pursuing the KAIZEN™ way with a service company has similar challenges and surprises as with production companies. On the other hand, there are also some differences. The most significant one is to make observations at the invisible Gemba. How can we make the invisible visible? Once we identify the potentials in our work and processes in a team, how can we start implementations? An important message for everyone who would like to have a similar journey within the sensitive Service Sector is that the change towards the better should start with YOURSELF!
This article introduces the reader into the Daily KAIZEN™ activities of Telekom Hungary with support of Kaizen Institute Hungary. Our goal is to point out which issues and benefits can occur when applying KAIZEN™ in the Service Sector. It is important to know that while Telekom Hungary has become successful with this KAIZEN™ program, other companies might need other solutions. Preliminary planning is very important in order to deliver a successful program. One must take several factors into consideration, such as the size of the company, its location, the variety of activities, the applied work tools, the standards of quality control etc. Telekom Hungary is rather a complex company with various, nationwide services from traditional personal customer service activities to online services.
The quality control system is stable, on the other hand a lot of issues are arising from the fact that the main activity is service providing. You surely know the feeling when entering an office and seeing a lot of busy people, but you have no idea what is really happening. Nowadays the virtual world is natural and common, everybody uses computers; we learn, gather information, order goods or services, contact our friends, write letters and last but not least work in a virtual reality. These activities are impossible without online tools and when we observe people using them we cannot tell what exactly they are doing. In a production area the movement of a product, the quantity of raw materials, work in process, finished goods and scraps seem clear. One can actually see what is happening with the product, whether it is being processed or currently in movement and after a short observation one can define where the wastes are. But if you think it over again, even in the production area, there are areas which are not so clear and transparent. Machines are frequently controlled by computers and they are usually not programmed on site. So, the shopfloor becomes less and less transparent thus the observation of the processes is more and more difficult and complex. Wastes are still there but they cannot be discovered. Of course, in both the production and the service area, the goal is the same; improving Quality, Cost and Delivery based on customer demands.
Kaizen Institute Hungary together with the Quality Department of Telekom Hungary have undertaken the mission to improve processes using KAIZEN™ at the Service Area of Telekom Hungary, where you can seldom see a process which is not running on computers. During the last two years, a lot of experiences and results have been gained. Kaizen Institute Hungary knew from the beginning on that only a complex, multi-level program could be the solution as Telekom Hungary is a company which delivers its services nationwide involving thousands of sites and colleagues in its activities which makes the tracking of the processes more difficult. Naturally the same process appears at several places but even in this case synchronizing the cooperation of process owners is not an easy task. From the very beginning on, the goal was not just to provide a training but also to deliver a common set of easy-to-learn tools for everybody which brings benefits in a brief time. If the employees realize the positive results, they will become multiplicators themselves.
Still today we have the intention that everybody, everywhere should face their own processes and continuously find improvement possibilities. They should not only think and observe their processes but also improve them with their own tools using their possibilities. We tend to think that we see the actual reality, but it is not true. We say that we work in harmony with the valid standards and instructions, but these standards and instructions are snapshots based on a previous observation of someone else. If we repeated the observation and the recording processes, most probably we would get another standard and instruction and not reflect the earlier ones. Therefore, it is very important from time to time to stop and make observations on how we do things and what we do. This is the only way to find new possibilities generated by changes. Our Gemba-based principle helps us to overcome difficulties when we feel something is not going right, but we cannot define the problem. This principle helps when we analyze the past, observe the present or plan the future. In the office environment many times we don’t realize the real issue, we only have feelings like ’My eyes sore’, ’I cannot concentrate’, ’I cannot find the responsible person even after several attempts’, ’I don’t know what I am responsible for’. These cases are hindering our daily work. We are uncomfortable with feeling unable to solve these problems especially if we work at a large company.
The gemba principle helps to not only make us see the reality but it is also useful to overcome the feeling of ’I have no power, I have no influence’. By observing and analyzing the past we can find a lot of things we can have influence on in the present and can make our future better causing us less stress and unhappiness. We can always change something which improves the quality of our work and our mood. Defining and visualizing gemba, our activities become meaningful and we can even improve them. The gemba principle is not only used in cause analysis but also in the implementation phase. Regardless of age, gender or position, if people are open-minded and curious, magnificent results can be seen. During gemba activities, not only successes but failures can also happen. These failures are even much more important for KAIZENers. The success of the improvement program of a company, a department, a team or an individual is based on failure handling. Beginner KAIZENers must be supported. It’s so easy to say ’This is not good. Let’s stop it’. However, it is very difficult is to say ’This is interesting. I haven’t thought of it’ and carry on. This is our work.
So how should we start improving in this rapidly changing world? It was clear for us that at a service providing company we cannot just walk into the working place as in a factory. In our culture it is simply strange to stand silently behind someone at their desk watching as they are clicking. For an office staff member – regardless whether they are from the frontline or the support area - the observation of their hard disk is a privacy question. On the other hand, without advanced preparation these observations don’t even help us to understand the process. The computer-based environment enables us to use several systems simultaneously and make parallel actions. So, we simply won’t understand the process not speaking about reality which is the core of our job. First, we had to find a proper method which enables us to observe and develop processes and at the same time ensure the employees do not find indiscrete. The first issue was to get entrance into the ’invisible’ world where most of the wastes are hidden unconsciously. We have created a model which is proper for every employee regardless of their position. In our system the improvement starts with ME, not with someone else. ’I’ is standing in the middle, not ’you’. We have followed the basic principle that we want to understand the problems and demands of the participants who joined the KAIZEN™ activities. All further program elements are based on this principle. Our system has three major components: trainings, workshops and KAIZEN™ audits. We applied the pull principle.
The aim of the trainings is not just to provide education for the employees but also to provide the possibility to instantly implement what they have just learnt. The participants of the first trainings were the members of the quality control team who have initiated this program. At the beginning they were a bit sceptic but finally the trainings proved to be real success stories. Although Telekom Hungary has had had well-regulated, flowchart supported processes for years, they only realized when using the method of Process Mapping that they are several unnecessary process steps. ’Lessons learned’ was that daily routine hides potentials but if we visualize the process in team work we can see what to improve. Another experience was that Telekom Hungary tends to mystify standardization instead of calculating the Lead Time of the process. The methods have shown that they can make a process step in diverse ways without significantly influencing the final result of the process. It was realized that only those process steps which have influences on the output should be standardized because investing more energy than required is overproduction.
The first sessions were and are still followed by multifunctional trainings. The participants from various departments of Telekom Hungary gain basic KAIZEN™ knowledge. In order to turn the knowledge into real praxis everybody has to take part in a project. The topics are selected by the participants themselves. We give them the blank linen framework and they paint the picture onto it. We step back in order to enable them to develop themselves and the processes.
We continuously hold KAIZEN™ Basics trainings. The participants are so enthusiastic as they have been provided with an easy-to-understand method which can be implemented in everyday life and they suggest the trainings to their colleagues, even to other departments.
We also organize advanced KAIZEN™ trainings based on the KAIZEN™ Basics trainings. The reason for doing so is that those who are in charge for process definition, operation and development on a daily basis and are interested in KAIZEN™ methods, can deepen their knowledge. The demand for process development should not come from a central top management position. The program can only be successful if it can run by its own, so it also works when we do not stand behind it as catalyzers. To do so we need stable basics and the skill of practical usage. If we make process improvements consciously, it won’t be a single event. Therefore, Advanced KAIZEN™ focuses on deepening the knowledge and implementations in practice. Furthermore, participants of this course can realize continuous process improvements in their own areas. It is important to underline that the whole program did not start as a top management demand, so the involvement of the colleagues is based on their own interest.
After the advanced training, participants should also carry out a project, namely they should have a process improving workshop. This means a strong commitment to KAIZEN™. They have to elaborate topics which are not only a problem for them but also for the company. The remarkable thing is that not only they can try themselves, but they also involve further colleagues in the KAIZEN™ world. When a learning process starts within a person, we should take good care of this person. The reason is simple: if somebody is in the phase of learning, then they are in a sensitive mental mood. This is especially true in case of teams. They need particular care and the team leader has responsibility for the team members ensuring the flow of feelings while the process developing team work is in progress. It is essential for the learning process to provide high-quality atmosphere which is the task of the team leader. We provide the necessary tools for this activity during this training. Win-win situations are important components of the KAIZEN™ activities. Participants deepen their knowledge; the program coordinators get more participants in order to reach their goals and the company achieves better performing processes.
The so-called Presentation Day is also part of the trainings. Ensuring effective knowledge transfer, participants present their small- or large-scale developments to others on this day. It is interesting to see that some people (even at the basic training) choose complex and therefore more difficult tools. Process Mapping is popular which is often combined with the Problem-Solving Story. It may seem unusual, but more and more participants choose 5S. This proves that even in the virtual world systematic order and sustainability is needed. Results are shown to each other in a few weeks after the trainings on the Presentation Day. These events are very popular. They have paid special attention to transparency, so solutions presented there are available for all company staff. Communication is supported by online solutions of the company.
There are such changes in the life of the whole company that the supervision of the processes is needed. E. g. changes in structures, technology, working environment etc. These changes sometimes require company-wide process supervision and have the aspect of process improvements. In such situations it is not wise to wait until the end of changes but start the development from the very beginning in cooperation with the given area. The Quality Control Team and the KAIZEN™ workshops support in such situations. The advantage of the process developing workshops is that all process members are participants. For them it is always attractive to get to know the entire process, to develop together and to launch the new process. Due to our experiences the colleagues consider simple applicability and visualization as an advantage. KAIZEN™ became the common language of process-oriented way of thinking.
Beyond trainings, presentation days and workshops - influencing company culture changes - KAIZEN™ Audit is another branch of the program. Its task is to shake up ISO audits in a KAIZEN™ spirit. The time of classical internal process audits are out-of-date. These new styles of audits are much more welcome by the departments. The main reason is that this kind of audits bring real teamwork and common thinking. Audits are performed in the way of workshops described above so real operation results are recorded and potentials are recognized together with the team. Although this kind of audits require more time, KAIZEN™ Audits were welcomed by staff members and managers as well so they were integrated into the internal audit plan. The key success factors were the cooperation of process owners and the simple and realistic visualization and the immediate definition of development directions.
The audit methodology is a novelty not only for the audited area but also for the auditors. For the latest the most valuable part of the new auditing method is that the identification of development potentials is not only their task, but the method provides an opportunity to involve the team in recognizing those potentials.
Future of the Program
It is a lucky situation that Quality Control at Telekom Hungary is assigned to the CEO through the Directorate of Company Operation Development. This unit is responsible for all the activities which influence the operations into a positive direction. The KAIZEN™ Program secures a framework for process developments and company-wide operation developments, projects and problem-solving processes. There is a frequently mentioned slogan when a development program starts. Three things are required for a successful KAIZEN™/Lean implementation: „Management commitment, Management commitment, Management commitment.”
We have proven by our program that co-working colleagues are much more important than management pressure. We can show faster and more attractive results to the management if the employees get a chance for learning immediately applicable experiences. We believe that the KAIZEN™ philosophy and tools are the proper ones for this purpose. Why? Because it applies simple visual tools, it is not overcomplicated, does not require scientific knowledge, quick and a lot of minor changes support the big results, it is cheap because beside human work nearly nothing more is required. Therefore, this bottom-up program became popular and is working. The results of the KAIZENers have become recognized also by middle- and top managers. They became interested in what their colleagues are doing and why they are so enthusiastic. We think that there are a lot of more possibilities for developing the program itself and we will have a lot of success stories within this program frame. We do not say that for continuous development this is the one and only way, but we can say that KAIZEN™ helps Telekom Hungary to see processes from a different point of view.
Masaaki Imai: gemba KAIZEN™: A Commonsense Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy
Second Edition (Mechanical Engineering) McGraw-Hill Education 2012
Masaaki Imai: KAIZEN™: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success, McGraw-Hill Education, 1986
Kaizen Institute Consulting Group, Ltd.
HQ Global Operations - Zug, Switzerland