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Some tips on how to run Kaizen events

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What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a Japanese word that stands for Continuous Improvement. It is typically used to make small continuous improvements for the better. Kaizen usually follows the PDCA cycle (Plan – Do – Check – Act). You plan for the Kaizen event, you then do the improvements, check if the improvements are successful and then act to either make other changes if the improvements are not successful or deploy the improvements that are successful to other areas.

Why should we Kaizen

If you don’t use Kaizen, problems don’t get solved! People work around the problems and get so used to them that after a time people even stop visualizing it as a problem even if it exists. By using Kaizen, the management asks the team to attack specific problems with an intention of getting rid of the problem completely and hence improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a workplace.

If you don’t want to use Kaizen, what are the options? One option is to live with the problem and work around it. A second option is to use a different methodology like Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, and Just Do It etc. Each of these methodologies have their own pluses and minuses. Kaizen is one methodology that can be used when you want to attack a problem that requires a cross-functional effort and for which the solution is known or relatively easy to implement.

Kaizen is not a “do these in addition to your daily work” type of an improvement. If the problem is really important, management needs to allocate the problem to a cross-functional team and give them 1-5 days to get it completely resolved. If a team or an individual works at it for a few hours every day, then the problem resolution takes a long time in order to get buy-in from all the people affected by the issue. The solution may not consider all the viewpoints and thus may not be optimal.

Who should do the Kaizen?

Kaizen is a team based activity that can be applied to any problem. However, it is desirable to have a problem for which you are relatively confident that the team will be able to resolve it within a short period of time. A typical Kaizen event lasts anywhere from 1-5 days and usually involves a cross-functional team. The benefit of Kaizen is that the team owns the improvements and hence will ensure their success. It is not a top-down forced deployment of change.

Everyone in the Kaizen team has the same rank. The people who join the Kaizen team need to leave their job titles outside the door before they start to Kaizen a problem. It gives everyone an equal chance at contributing to the improvement. So, anyone who can contribute to make the problem better are candidates for the Kaizen event. It is important to note that it is better to avoid people who have a closed mind. Picking the right people for the team and the selection of the team leader is vital for the successful implementation of a Kaizen.

Kaizen team should be cross-functional so that all issues that surround the problem are considered and everyone has had a chance to provide their inputs so that the solution developed will be robust. Kaizen forces cooperation between departments and improves communication.

When do we Kaizen?

Kaizen should be used whenever there is a problem for which the root cause and solutions are relatively straightforward. You should be able to use some of the Lean concepts to eliminate the wastes that may be present in the process. Of course, you should be able to dedicate the entire Kaizen team to the problem in order to make the Kaizen successful. In some companies, Kaizen events are held regularly, sometimes off work hours while in others Kaizen events are scheduled during lean periods of business.

Where do we Kaizen?

Kaizen events can be done anywhere in the plant or the office. Anywhere there is waste; Kaizen can be used to improve the process. It is important to perform the Kaizen event close to the actual place of work so that people can observe the process and make changes to the process during the Kaizen event. Kaizen should not be performed remotely in a conference room.

How to Kaizen?

Kaizen is not about coming up with the best possible answer. It is about making small continuous changes or improvements. The basic idea being that it is better to implement a solution that may not be the best rather than wait for the ideal solution which may never come about. If the solution you implement make some improvement and you are still not satisfied with it that could be an opportunity for a further Kaizen in that area. Here are the steps for performing a Kaizen:
  • First prepare for the Kaizen. Since Kaizen is a focused exercise that only lasts a few days, in order to be successful, we need to plan for it thoroughly.
  • Select a suitable problem for the Kaizen. The problem should have a significant impact on the area with high initial chance of success.
  • Communicate to dispel rumors and ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page with respect to the improvements being made.
  • Select the right team members and the right team leader and block everyone’s time on the calendar to ensure their undivided attention during the event. Offload their daily work to others so they are not disturbed during the Kaizen event.
  • Collect any background data and information about the problem to minimize time during the Kaizen event.
  • Train the team on the basic of waste and other fundamental lean concepts so that the team can look for these improvements in the process.
  • Ensure that the team is focused on making improvements and implementing the changes during the Kaizen event. Kaizen is not just about making recommendations. It is also ensuring that the recommendations are implemented.
  • Make a final presentation to management and document the improvements made during the Kaizen event. You can use the Kaizen report form template that is available in the Sigma Magic software to report improvements. Make sure to get management approval before making improvements to your process.
  • For those solutions that cannot be implemented right away, create a Kaizen newspaper to ensure that action items are being followed and completed post the Kaizen event.
  • Follow-up the Kaizen event to capture lessons learned and survey the participants so that you can Kaizen the Kaizen event itself and do a better job for the next Kaizen.
Kaizen Example

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