Everyone knows Canon as a massive corporation that manufactures cameras, printers, scanners, and a variety of other quality goods. Less known by the consumer market is the role Canon plays in helping other companies improve processes using the Six Sigma methodology. This happens through a Canon subsidiary that operates under the name Canon Business Process Services. Canon Business Process Services has been outsourced for over a thousand projects by various organizations, one of which was a food manufacturer that was having accountability issues with its mail management.

A major food manufacturer had a goal of 100% accountability in its shipping and receiving department. With the help of the Six Sigma-led Canon Business Process Services, the manufacturer was able to meet this goal by implementing a Kaizen Event.

Canon Business Process Services Was Outsourced To Solve A Mail Management Problem

Canon Business Process Services has been a subsidiary of Canon USA since 1959. The organization is Canon’s business optimization unit and is outsourced to help companies reach their optimization goals. This is accomplished through an approach that brings together data analytics, the latest in technology, workflow automation, and the Six Sigma methodology. The organization helps companies to transform their business processes by providing innovative solutions, assisting in the streamlining of operations, reducing costs, and improving efficiency.

Canon Business Process Services has been outsourcing its improvement methods to companies since 1959. It has been recognized as a global International Association of Outsourcing Professionals leader for seventeen consecutive years and has successfully implemented its methods in over one thousand projects for businesses. Many of these companies are quite well known. In fact, Canon Business Process Services has served over 147 Fortune 1000 companies. At the root of all that Canon Business Services does to help companies reach their potential is Six Sigma.

When Canon Business Process Services was brought in to help a food manufacturer’s shipping and receiving department, it was not just a minor operation that needed assistance. Every month, the company dealt with over 13,000 packages delivered to its receiving dock. Included in this number were 120 ingredients for testing and food samples. On top of all of this, the organization received daily packages and letters related to administrative needs that numbered in the hundreds. At the time that Canon Business Process Services was brought in, the food manufacturer’s shipping and receiving department had workflow issues that were contributing to the incorrect handling of packages. This, combined with a sizeable amount of clutter, was leading to packages being lost or delivered incorrectly. Space restrictions and company process redundancies were creating a number of workflow crossover problems.

Multiple gaps existed in the chain of custody that also contributed to the loss or mishandling of packages. Ahead of Canon’s intervention, the food manufacturer made a large investment in new software that would assist in accountability and package tracking. The manufacturer made this investment with the belief that the software would help toward its goal of 100% accountability. Instead, it caused a lot of confusion and waste. The reason for this was that the manufacturer made the investment in the software under the assumption that it would bridge the gap in being able to log package details that included receipt of delivery, end-of-day status, and volume that was broken down into factors like the type of package, its delivery route, and its location. Unfortunately, the software did not provide this kind of data.

Instead of throwing up its hands and giving up on its desire to improve, the food manufacturer brought in Canon Business Process Services, who dove into its Six Sigma tools to help the manufacturer see its goal through.

Canon Decided on a Kaizen Event To Help the Food Manufacturer

Canon Business Process Services opted to organize a Kaizen Event for the food manufacturer. This Six Sigma tool is a workshopping event that focuses on one goal over the course of several days. Kaizen means “change for the good” in Japanese and an event brings about meaningful and significant change to one specified problem in an organization. Typically, such an event will last from 3–5 days but is often held for a full week.

There are different kinds of Kaizen Events. In a waste Kaizen, the intent is to reduce or even eliminate waste in an organization’s processes. Waste is an activity that does not add any value, and there are eight types identified. These are easily individually remembered by the acronym DOWNTIME and are defects, overproduction, waiting, nonutilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion, and excessive processing.

An error-proofing Kaizen serves to eliminate errors by standardizing work processes, implementing mistake-proof techniques, combining steps, quality checks, and streamlining.

With a lead-time Kaizen, an emphasis falls on value-stream analysis in order to bring about a reduction in the lead time for the successful delivery of a service or product. Many of the same tools used in an error-proofing Kaizen occur in lead-time.

In a visual management Kaizen Event, visual management techniques serve to improve the flow of information, activities, and materials.

Due to the nature of the issues that the food manufacturing company was having, Canon Business Process Services embarked on an error-proofing Kaizen Event.

The first stage of a Kaizen Event is preparation. In the preparation stage, the problem is defined, along with the goal and the scope. During the next stage, training occurs for the team members in order to ensure the success of the project. Topics generally included in this training are the methods, tools, and goals of Six Sigma and Lean. Also covered is the mapping of the future and current states. Tools and frameworks related to root-cause analysis are also explored during this phase.

In the third phase of a Kaizen Event, implementation of the tools that have been trained occurs. This can involve breaking the group up into teams and mapping out the current process in order to compare what is mapped. Doing this serves to show process variations and can lead to a more well-rounded and robust process.

A gap analysis is also part of the implementation stage. This tool identifies holes in processes as well as puts a spotlight on any waste. The team then conducts a root-cause analysis. Once the root cause is analyzed, the correct process flow is determined.

Given the timeline of a Kaizen Event and the focus on fast progress, solutions should be sorted out during the event for how to rapidly test the results of the changes in the workplace and how to document them.

The final stage of a Kaizen Event is the follow-up. This means reviewing the changes that are desired, preparing a summary, and distributing this summary to the team. Follow-up meetings are then scheduled to communicate the success of the event.

In the Kaizen Event, representatives from the food manufacturing company and Canon Business Process Services were able to work through these phases. The team mapped the process of the shipping and receiving department and was able to identify all of the clear gaps. By brainstorming, the team arrived at some solutions that could have a real impact. A continuous improvement plan was drafted that documented actions to follow, with a focus on a modification of workflow to minimize the handling of packages on the deck. Other actions plotted included an updating of the software and an elimination of workflow crossover that created redundancy. Proper training of employees on the correct process for the delivery and handling of packages was also covered.

In practice, this meant the elimination of the crisscrossing of packages. A new process was created that ensured a much more efficient workflow from receipt to staging. The team reconfigured the software to align with this new process, making sure that each stage of the chain could be successfully tracked. The software system was also configured to create a report at the end of each day that details any packages that are undelivered or otherwise unaccounted for. A helpful performance report was also included with this update. All employees that would be interacting with this system were all properly trained as well.

The Outcome Was Exemplary

Thanks to the successful implementation and monitoring of the solutions found during the Kaizen Event, the shipping/receiving department of the food manufacturer was able to achieve 100% accountability for the packages received at the dock. There was also a significant improvement in mail process tracking capability. Accountability in this area increased from 30% to 100%. Employees showed an increase in overall productivity, responded well to their training, and felt more empowered in their jobs. The receiving area reported significantly improved workflow and there was a clear improvement in accuracy with package deliveries overall.

These positive results were not short-term. Since the Kaizen Event, the food manufacturing company has been able to maintain complete accountability at its dock. Delivery attempts and signatures are now recorded via handheld devices. Data is synchronized between delivery staff, the shipping/receiving department, and the end user. Thorough closing procedures and inventory happen at the end of each working day.

3 Best Practices Learned From a Kaizen Event

Through working with Canon Business Process Services to find solutions to its mail management issue, the food manufacturing company gained some valuable lessons that have kept its accountability at 100% since. Here are some of the practices that can be applied to your own business:

1. Invest in your people ahead of technology

When the food manufacturer was initially trying to solve its mail management issue, it first opted to invest in new technology that it believed would solve its problems. As it turned out, the software was not set up to do what the organization hoped it would do. If employees had the proper training, the limitations of the software might have been spotted before making such an investment. Even if the software did work correctly, the positive results would have been limited without properly addressing issues in the employee workflow. Making sure that your processes are sound and that your employees are all properly trained can go a long way toward optimizing the efficiency of your business.

2. Eliminate waste

In looking at the shipping and receiving processes, the team was able to identify a lot of duplicate efforts that were redundant and creating waste. Take a good look at where there could be waste in your processes and find solutions on how to eliminate it.

3. Synchronize your workflow

One contributing factor to the food manufacturer having such an issue with mail management was that it passed through too many hands. Another was a lack of proper communication among the departments, which could cause confusion and work duplication. This was solved by making improvements to the overall workflow synchronization. Having your workflow properly synchronized can help you have much more efficient operations.

Six Sigma’s Role in How Canon Business Process Services Helps Companies Improve

The amazing improvement in package accountability for the shipping and receiving department of the food manufacturing company is not unusual when using Six Sigma tools. In over a thousand projects, Canon Business Process Services has been able to provide results for organizations that need to improve their processes. If there is any doubt about the power behind the Six Sigma methodology, one only needs to look at how often Canon has been able to help other organizations succeed using these tools. A Kaizen Event lasts about a week, but the solutions found in that short time have been able to solve the manufacturer’s issue and keep the problem fixed. Kaizen Events are just one Six Sigma tool. Just imagine what a full 4-6 month Six Sigma project could do toward improving the efficiency of an organization.

About the Author