In business, when times get tough, the knee-jerk reaction is to have layoffs. What follows is a remarkable example of one company that decided to make a further investment in its people by getting them trained toward Six Sigma Green Belt certification and having them put their focus on saving money for the organization.
Even during a time of uncertainty, the Kaizen and Six Sigma training that employees of a private network mobilization company received made a significant impact on the bottom line of the organization, while also teaching them how to approach issues that arise in a way that helps ensure the organization’s continued success in the future.
Rajant Had a Problem
Rajant is a corporation that specializes in mobile wireless communications. It deals primarily in private network infrastructure and is the exclusive provider of what is known as Kinetic Mesh technology. Rajant provides customers with the ability to use this technology to quickly deploy an adaptable network that uses real-time data for on-demand business intelligence. Rajant’s networks give industrial customers full mobility by giving them the flexibility to bring their private networks and data to any location. This has proved advantageous for a wide variety of customers in numerous countries. Clients range from the military to petrochemical plants, with a client base spread over 60 countries. This is incredibly impressive when one considers that Rajant is a fairly small company with only 24 employees.
The company was founded in 2001 by Robert Schena and Paul Hellhake after the events of 9/11. The founders, along with a team of engineers and business developers, recognized the need for private networks that could operate under adverse conditions as well as without infrastructure. This need became clear from the communications breakdowns that occurred with traditional networks during 9/11. The mobile private network technology developed by the team was initially intended to attract the attention of the U.S. military and commercial mining operations. Instead, Ragant saw the wide demand for its network technology blossom across a wide range of industries.
This demand came from the innovations that Rajant was providing. Rajant’s dynamic communications network promised bandwidth, mobility, scalability, and immunity from failure. It accomplishes this by seamlessly connecting mobile, fixed, and wireless nodes together and then redirecting traffic to the next available point should any one node be obstructed or compromised.
While Rajant saw nearly twenty years of success, like most companies, the organization faced a period of uncertainty during the pandemic. Instead of resorting to layoffs like many others, Rajant decided to embrace its investment in people by hiring individuals laid off from other organizations.
The company still had to change the way it operated during the pandemic. Lines of communication had to be further opened up. The founder did this by hosting bi-weekly group calls with Rajant employees, encouraging a two-way conversation. He would cover the state of operations and performance and then leave the floor open for questions and comments. This open communication extended to the company’s global partners, finding ways to help them stay productive during the crisis as well as continue to be helpful for their end-users.
The challenges of the pandemic made something clear. If Ravant was going to avoid layoffs, it would need to eliminate waste and optimize its efficiency. It would also have to maximize value in order to hold onto its customers with the lowest possible investment.
In order to meet these goals and maintain its policy of continuous improvement, even during this difficult time, Rajant turned to Six Sigma.
Rajant Employees Received Green Belt Six Sigma and Kaizen Training
Rajant sent 8 of its employees to Lean Six Sigma training. This training included five days of classroom Green Belt training, three days of Kaizen, and conducting an operational assessment.
Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement. The concept is a cornerstone of Lean Six Sigma practices. It focuses on the elimination of waste, productivity improvement, and sustained, continual improvement in specifically targeted processes and activities within an organization. With Kaizen, small changes made incrementally and routinely add up to a big difference if continued over time. A team within an organization that utilizes Kaizen will incorporate various analytical tools, such as The 5 Whys and value stream mapping. Typically, the focus is on changes that do not have a major capital overhead to consider for their implementation.
There are a few phases during a Kaizen event. In the first phase, an appropriate target is identified that could benefit from rapid improvement. Once this target is determined, a waste elimination issue is selected within that area to focus on. The team that will be working on this issue is then organized, and a typical event will last between one and seven days.
During the second phase, an analysis of the current process is conducted in order to have a clear understanding of the current state. This analysis can involve various tools, but the most common are The 5 Whys and value stream mapping. With The 5 Whys, there is a practice of asking “why” five times, working through causes until one arrives at the root cause of an issue. In value stream mapping, all steps, activities, communications, and other elements associated with a process are broken down into flowcharts. This technique helps identify the non-value-added elements in a targeted process. Once these non-value-added elements are found, ideas for how they can be improved or outright eliminated are brainstormed. The ideas deemed to hold the most promise are implemented, and the changes that occur are carefully monitored, logged, and assessed.
The third phase involves follow-ups to make sure that the changes made sustain. The training that the employees received in Kaizen gave them the necessary skills to become change managers in the areas in which they operated. The other Six Sigma tools they were taught furthered their understanding of properly identifying operational gaps. Once training was complete, each employee was given an individual project that would put these skills to use in realizing savings or avoiding costs.
The Outcome Was Remarkable
The eight employees’ individual projects added up to a total savings of around $40,000. They came away from the training and the realization of its effectiveness with a commitment to making informed decisions, backed by verifiable data and statistical methods. The training is expected to also have an impact on the future success of Rajant by helping to improve customer satisfaction as well as maintaining a focus on financial returns that are measurable and quantifiable.
The employees and engineers that received the training have commented on how the course gave them an invaluable set of critical thinking methods and tools that have changed the way that they approach everyday tasks. Problems can be looked at from numerous angles, which helps ensure that the best possible solution for addressing the issue is selected. Continuous improvement is now applied to every task that is undertaken. They also note that the outcomes of work projects are now of higher quality, and timelines have improved. Both the ability to lead and work as a team in pursuit of a common goal have improved.
3 Best Practices When Implementing Kaizen
The employees of Rajant had some key takeaways from their training that would continue on in their future work practices:
1. Approach issues from multiple angles
The employees realized the benefit of being able to look at an issue from multiple angles in order to find the best solution. Often, the best solution for a problem is not going to be the most obvious one and could be easily overlooked. Six Sigma provides the tools and techniques for examining and analyzing an issue from various directions. This skill helps not only in the workplace but also with problems in everyday life.
2. Eliminate waste
The employees learned that one of the biggest barriers to making improvements in quality is waste. Waste can be anything that does not add value. This can be anything in a process, from the time it takes to get from one location to another to having to wait before moving onto the next step. Members of the Rajant team learned the important practice of identifying these wastes in their practices and coming up with ways to improve upon them or even eliminate them altogether.
3. Constant improvement and innovation
The eight employees of Rajant learned the value of making constant improvements, sustaining those improvements, and regularly innovating. Even if these changes appear small at first, over time and stacked on top of one another, they add up to major improvements.
Sustaining Change for Long-Term Growth
We all want to do better. Often, we want to make big changes in our work and lives and make grand moves to see these changes through. The problem is, if you do not do the work to sustain the improvements that are implemented, the big changes do not stick. From Kaizen and Six Sigma, we learn that even small changes made can make a significant change if there is work done to sustain the improvements so that they keep from falling back. The eight employees of Rajant saved $40,000 annually for the company on their pilot Six Sigma projects. If the same team finds other projects to tackle and keeps striving to improve, the impact that could be had would be substantial.