I’ve just returned from a week-long Kaizen 3P event. Overall, the outcome of the event was excellent but I want to share a couple of areas to keep in mind if you either participate in or organize these production preparation process events.

Lean Tools and Techniques for the Product Preparation Process

The Product Preparation Process (3P) is a technique that brings stakeholders together to envision improvements in a given process. The tool can be focused on virtually anything that either needs improvement or redesign. It can also be used as a brainstorming technique to arrive at breakthrough ideas. There are many resources available to learn more about the tool so I will focus mainly on a few areas that creep up time and time again.

The goal is to bring all stakeholders to the table, which invariably means that some participants will have less experience with the process than others. This lack of familiarity is actually beneficial as fresh eyes and minds are the keys to unlocking breakthrough ideas. The trick, however, is vetting the team you assemble. Team members can be, and often are, very pragmatic but they should possess an open and inquisitive mind. The difficulty arises when a single voice stubbornly adheres to the status quo. At best this can be managed through the Kaizen, and at worst it can damp the free flow of ideas so as to render the process effectively useless. Be careful selecting the team, they hold the magic within.

All things are nails to those who only use hammers. The process is a tool. Sometimes it is good to follow the instructions completely but not always and I would say infrequently. A new team may need a full day-long introduction session, however, this can be boring and even detrimental if the group is well aligned and excited to get going. Keep the intro just long enough. If you need a couple extra minutes to finish up the fishbone or a sketch then take that time. Yes, the instructions say quantity over quality but if a complex system is being investigated then it makes sense to trade some extra time getting a concept right then rushing for quantity. After all, it actually needs to work in the end so sculpt the process to fit your needs.

Take the time to prepare well. This is often either overlooked or given too little time. The process can work without preparation and as I mentioned above there are even times when this may be desirable, especially if you want the team to not be distracted or swayed by an existing concept or solution. More often than not the problems we encounter are complicated enough to warrant having a group of people locked up together for a week. In the case of more complicated problems, it has been invaluable to take the time to tear down a particular device or system, interact with it and look at competitors, etc. There is no substitute for seat time. Take the time to become familiar with the problem so you can experience the issue first hand. Assemble the device that has the assembly line going crazy, interact with the software that prevents a client from processing orders, and use the device that causes pain or strain. All of this, of course, drives to improve the experience at all levels, not just end users and that is a good design. Prep time may take a reduced team size almost as long as the product preparation process but is worth it as problems become more complex.

Last, and probably most important, is to have a complete understanding of the area of focus. Assuming you have the right team, a correctly scaled tool, and good preparation, we need to know in what specific areas to focus the effort. While there may be multiple issues, problems or opportunities, not all of them can be addressed. Using good Voice of Customer data or any other objective means of teasing out which areas are most important to customers, consumers and users are critical. This information often comes from Marketing and/or Sales but observation can be used to great effect if either resource is not available. We often create a matrix to rate the various issues on a 1/3/5 scale and discover which areas require the most attention. Use these as pole stars throughout the process to keep the activity focused. Ideas often creep up that are somewhat outside of the determined focus. It is important to keep all ideas generated during the process but at the end score these ideas based first on whether or not they address the articulated focus area, as this will determine if they address the immediate focus or are stored for later use. The tool can be brought to bear on any problem area with equal effectiveness but will only produce results if aimed in the right direction.

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