My fellow blogger, Caroline Kalinoski, and I have both written about our December Kaizen trip to Miami. Our Section-mate, Su Liu, went on an arguably even more exciting Kaizen trip to Singapore over spring break with seven other Darden students and graciously agreed to share his experience:
Spring break in Singapore? This was the sixth iteration of the international Darden-Danaher kaizens, an event where Danaher Corporation, a $33b conglomerate, sponsors a handful of first and second year Darden students to participate in one of its week-long continuous improvement activities. This year 8 students participated.
A few of us arrived a couple days early to check out Singapore. We discovered that Singapore is a very friendly walking city. In three days we packed in walking most of downtown, little India, Chinatown, a day on the beach (Sentosa Island), the night safari, botanical gardens, and multiple trips to the Marina bay area. The city was awesome, but the best part was by far the food. It was everywhere and everything we tried was better than the thing we had before.
I can’t in good conscience talk about this kaizen without bringing up the most memorable experience…Durian. Durian resembles a spikey pineapple (see above). The fruit itself has a large seed inside with the meat surrounding that seed and has a unique smell and taste. See this YouTube video for explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQj-hFfmYkQ
The Singaporeans love it so much that it’s their national fruit and one of their large theaters is modeled after the fruit. For visitor like us, it was quite an experience…
After a weekend of fun we started our Kaizen bright and early on Monday morning.
Kaizen is Japanese for “improvement.” It is a lean tool that was pioneered by the Japanese during their rebuilding efforts after WWII and has since become a catch-all for process improvement. A typical kaizen is a week-long event with a very narrow focus. The goal is to complete the improvement during the week (as opposed to other “events” where lists of ideas are generated that no one has time to work on). Kaizen teams are typically composed of a process owner, sponsor, facilitator, a team of people who do the work, and sometimes outsiders for a fresh perspective.
Leica Microsystems, one of Danaher’s subsidiaries, hosted us this year. They had the most amazing personnel I have ever worked with. In manufacturing plants, particularly old plants, there’s often a self-defeating culture. When it comes to lean and continuous improvement, you can’t get away from hearing things like, “We’ve done it like this for 30 years, nothing’s going to change.” Leica wasn’t like this at all. They had an amazing culture where everyone seemed open to trying something new. It was really refreshing to see that kind of culture at a plant.
Our kaizen group was divided into 3 teams that each had the opportunity to work on a different area. Each of the three teams was split into two standard work projects and one supply chain project. I was assigned to a standard work team and my project was to support auditing and updating a visual board. The visual board basically visually represented the current production/operations in the area. It had places for hundreds of little yellow cards that represented customer orders. Each of these kanban cards provided an instantaneous “snapshot” of how the process was doing and where inventory was held up.
We spent the first day in training, then the next three or so developing and implementing solutions, and the last day on a report-out. Overall it was an amazing experience. From a student, it’s very difficult to get a holistic picture of a company or role from a briefing, networking call, or interview. The kaizen really provides a good view of what life is like inside a manufacturing plant and in particular what the culture is like at Danaher.