The Seattle Mariners Turn to Kaizen to End Playoff Drought

The Seattle Mariners Turn to Kaizen to End Playoff Drought

By Discovery Lean Six Sigma

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Can a process improvement strategy improve results for the Seattle Mariners, a baseball team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001? We’re about to find out.

Mariners manager Scott Servais created a new motto for the 2019 season. It’s a one-word slogan that will sound familiar to those interested in Lean Six Sigma: Kaizen.

Servais told the Seattle Times before the season began that using Kaizen as a motto “makes sense. We are trying to get better. It’s a daily process to continue improvement. It’s something from the Japanese culture and we are going to Japan and we have Japanese players so why not?”

He also, perhaps unknowingly, summed up the proper approach from an executive when it comes to Lean Six Sigma. While he said he planned to talk to the team about Kaizen in spring training, the process improvement effort “will be ongoing.”

Kaizen: Good Change

Taken from the Japanese language, the word Kaizen translates into “good change” or “change for the better.” It’s a foundational part of Lean Six Sigma. The term defines the part of process improvement that involves making small, continuous changes that eventually lead to big improvements.

One of the principle ideas is the Kaizen Event. This involves a project team coming together for a short time to focus completely and intently on solving one challenge by making a necessary change. It can put a fast-forward on making needed changes.

In the case of a baseball team, this could be one small part of what is a complicated game. How pitchers locate certain pitches against left-handed batters, for example. Or how hitters approach at-bats when there are two runners on base with two outs.

The possibilities are endless. The tools of process improvement can help sports teams reduce volatility and errors as well as make certain processes within the game more efficient.

The Father of Kaizen

Servais had T-shirts and posters printed up with “Kaizen” emblazoned on them in both English and Japanese. His enthusiasm sprang from reading “Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success” by Masaaki Imai.

Born in Tokyo, Imai spent about five years in the late 1950s working at the Japanese Production Center in the United States, leading visiting Japanese businesspeople on tours of American factories. In the 1960s, he opened his own employment agency in Japan.

By 1986, he had formed the Kaizen Institute Consulting Group. The organization worked with western companies to teach them about the Japanese concept of Kaizen – essentially reversing the flow of information that happened in the 1950s.

The Kaizen Institute states its mission succinctly: “We work with our clients to create processes that highlight problems, while simultaneously training and empowering their teams to solve them.”

In an interview with Quality Digest in the late 1990s, Imai pointed out another important facet of Kaizen: “Kaizen means ongoing improvement involving everybody, without spending much money.”

In a 2016 video about Kaizen, Imai talks about how the words “continuous improvement” do not go far enough in describing Kaizen. He talks about the “self-discipline and commitment” that people need to have if they want to succeed with Kaizen.

“I now have a new interpretation of the word “Kaizen,” Imai said. “So, I say Kaizen is everyday improvement, everybody improvement, and everywhere improvement.”

He also notes that Kaizen should “start from the top, it should start with managers,” once again underscoring the executive buy-in.

Servais certainly seems to have that buy-in. Where that takes the Mariners in 2019 remains to be seen. But he ranks among the first documented cases of managers in baseball to apply a Lean concept directly to try to improve the fortunes of his team.

The post The Seattle Mariners Turn to Kaizen to End Playoff Drought appeared first on Six Sigma Daily.

By: admin
Posted: May 21, 2019, 2:00 pm

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