In 2007 the U.S. Postal Service introduced the Continuous Improvement Program to promote organizational process improvements in the workplace. The program includes Lean Six Sigma (LSS) and Kaizen processes. The Continuous Improvement office offers a 2-week LSS training course for all Kaizen project leaders. After the training, a project leader must lead one LSS project or two Kaizen events within 180 business days to earn Green Belt certification. The Continuous Improvement office recommends LSS refresher training for a Green Belt candidate who is not certified within 180 business days.
Kaizen (Japanese for “improvement”) is an incremental process. The Postal Service’s Kaizen process uses a “Plan-Do-Check- Act” method to analyze operational deficiencies and identify root causes. The entire process takes five weeks to complete and includes the pre-event planning and three to five-day Kaizen event. In addition, a project charter defines the goals, scope, and team member roles for the three- to five-day event. Local management should allow team members to complete the three- to five-day Kaizen event without performing their regular duties. At the conclusion of an event, the team prepares a summary report.
The Atlanta Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC) scheduled a Kaizen event from November 2015 to March 2016 to improve surface visibility load and unload scans. The goal of the Kaizen event was to increase scan percentages from 39 percent for load scans and 68 percent for unload scans to 90 percent for both by March 31, 2016. The Postal Service scans mail and uses the surface visibility system to track it.
Our objective was to determine the effectiveness of the Kaizen process to improve surface visibility load and unload scan percentages at the Atlanta P&DC.
What the OIG Found
We determined the Kaizen event was ineffective because Atlanta P&DC management did not follow and complete the Kaizen process.
Specifically, the project team did not have a charter defining the project scope and timeframe. Additionally, the project leader completed LSS training in June 2012, but was not Green Belt-certified at the time of our review, and had not attended LSS refresher training. We concluded the project leader was not qualified to conduct the Kaizen event.
In addition, the Kaizen process lasted four months rather than the recommended five weeks. The Kaizen team performed trend analysis, identified potential barriers and root causes, and developed a list of recommended improvements. However, the Kaizen event was not completed because the improvements were not implemented. The project leader said the team did not implement any of the improvements because management support was minimal and the team members were required to perform their regular duties instead of focusing on the Kaizen event.
Although the team did not complete the Kaizen event, it attempted to motivate employees to improve scan frequency by posting a report in the P&DC listing employee names and scan frequencies. Subsequently, Postal Service Headquarters management directed the report be removed to protect employee privacy.
We found that load and unload scan scores had improved as of March 31, 2016, to 68 and 82 percent, respectively, but did not meet the 90 percent goal. We did not find a direct correlation between the Kaizen event and the improved scan percentages.
During the audit, the acting Atlanta P&DC manager, who was not part of the Kaizen team, said the team would be reassembled to complete the event and would provide us documented results. We will not include this information in our review because it is outside the scope of our audit and did not occur during the Kaizen event, as required.
We made a referral to our Office of Investigations concerning the Atlanta P&DC’s lack of compliance with the Kaizen process and funds wasted on a Green Belt certification. We identified questioned costs of over $14,000 for the project leader’s Green Belt training and associated salary expenses for the project team.
What the OIG Recommended
We recommended management ensure that employees follow the Kaizen process and the approved steps for Green Belt certification and that onsite management supports the project team to ensure timely completion of Kaizen events.