The cold continues to keep me (mostly) flat in bed, but there are signs of improvement! I’m hoping to be fully recovered by the end of the weekend. And I am somewhat ambulatory now.
I’ve also gotten a few useful things done, the biggest of which is weaving up my project for an upcoming article in Handwoven. It’s a two-shuttle weave, a total of about 3600 picks, which gave me plenty of time to practice kaizen.
Kaizen is a Japanese word that simply means “positive change”. However, in the context of Japanese manufacturing processes, “kaizen” is a methodology that produces continuous improvement through many small changes – which, together, have great impact. It’s easier, more effective, and less disruptive than trying one major, planned effort to improve quality – and you get results faster, too.
I view kaizen as a series of experiments. You come up with an idea for how to make something faster/better/more enjoyable, and you test the idea. Then, if it works, you make the change part of your routine. Then you look at the routine again, and see if there are other things that could use optimization. Repeat, improving with each cycle.
In this particular case, I was working on speed. On my previous loom, I wove at 2.5 seconds/pick using two shuttles, on a warp 24″ wide. On the new loom, I was weaving at 3.5 seconds/pick under the same circumstances, but with a narrower warp (10″ wide). Obviously something had changed, and I suspected I could improve things via incremental improvements to my weaving routine.
I started by observing myself weaving. A video camera would have been great for this, but since I didn’t have one, I simply sat down and wove for awhile, focusing not on weaving but on observing my hand movements. Were there any extra motions? Small moments of clumsiness? Pauses between parts of the cycle, or separate movements that could be combined into a single fluid gesture?
After about twenty minutes, I felt I had a good (nonverbal) understanding of the rhythm and motions of my weaving, and began making changes. I started with the movement of the beater, as it seemed like the greatest inefficiency. I had been pulling the beater forward, then pushing it all the way back, placing it in the “rest” position before letting go. Was this really necessary? Probably not. If I could let go of the beater on the backswing, it would tend to fall back on its own. If I let go at the exact right place and time, with exactly enough force, it would even fall back into place without bouncing. That would allow me to let go a fraction of a second sooner, which in turn meant I could pick up the shuttle a tiny bit faster. Small changes, but factored over thousands of repetitions, they could add up to a huge difference.
So I experimented with it. At first, I had tons of trouble – the beater bounced back, destroying my rhythm, or I fumbled the shuttle pick-up after letting go of the beater. I kept my foot on the e-Lift too long, so the shed closed just as I was going to throw the shuttle. And so on. Change is disruptive, and the disruptions can be frustrating. But over a period of about an hour, I found the motions beginning to smooth out. I checked my speed again – 3.23 seconds per pick. I had cut over a quarter-second off my average time per pick – an 8% speed improvement, just by making one small change!
But how much does that really matter? In this case, quite a bit. On the 3600-pick project, it would save me about fifteen minutes – three hours and fifteen minutes versus three and a half hours. And that was a relatively quick project. Over time, that one small change will save me hours and hours of weaving time.
But even if I hadn’t gotten a big improvement, I would have continued my experiments. The idea of kaizen isn’t the big change – it’s lots of small changes, with small impact, that add up. Some of those changes will produce measurable value in themselves, while some add up only in the aggregate. But it’s the kaizen approach that is valuable to me – constantly checking my work for things that could be improved, and making what small improvements I can. Too frequently, in Western culture, we focus on The Big Thing – putting in huge efforts in hopes of getting a big return. Kaizen says that there is value in the small change, too, and that – over time – the small changes can add up to big ones. I think kaizen is a better road to mastery than Big Change, so I try to make it part of my daily practice.
While I didn’t have a word for it, that is exactly my approach. I still check myself for possibilities of small changes that might bring incremental improvement. 🙂