While we believe that Kaizen events are an extremely effective improvement tool, we are reluctant to say too much about them without a word of caution. Organizations that rely solely on Kaizen events for improvement and do not practice daily Kaizen, are typically less successful implementing and sustaining long term improvement. We’ve likened this approach in the past to a crash diet. Sure, you might see short term results, but overtime, the weight (or in the case of business, the waste) eventually creeps back. That said, Kaizen events can be a wonderful complement to daily incremental improvement. Here are a few situations where they make the most sense.
An immediate breakthrough is needed
Sometimes a problem becomes so apparent and pressing, that it requires the immediate and full attention of subject matter experts to solve it. This might be something like a sudden, unexplained increase in the number of product defects. It might be a spike in customer complaints or safety violations. In these cases, a Kaizen event may be exactly the right approach to getting the problem resolved very quickly.
The problem’s impact is significant
Even if the issue is not as urgent as the ones listed above, a Kaizen event might be in order if the issue’s impact is significant enough to justify diverting resources from other tasks for a few days. This might apply to issues related to pull through, or a specific waste that is contributing to substantial expense.
The improvement can be reasonably completed during a blitz
There are some issues that are simply too complex and widespread that a Kaizen event isn’t the right approach. Before deciding to deploy a Kaizen event, consider whether improvement is possible in three to five days. If that seems like a stretch, another improvement methodology is probably in order.
Training or practice is needed
Kaizen events are an excellent way to teach people how to improve using the PDSA cycle. Allowing employees to focus on improvement for a few days gives them an intensive improvement experience and it reinforces the skills that are necessary to see an opportunity for improvement to fruition. This is helpful for people who are new to the Kaizen mindset, and as a periodic skill refresher for veterans.
Intensive cross-functional collaboration is required
Cross functional collaboration can be difficult when people are pulled in different directions with competing priorities. A Kaizen event removes these barriers and puts everyone to work on the same problem at the same time - with the added benefit of building relationships that can encourage cross functional collaboration long after the event ends.
Kaizen events are an important tool in the improvement toolbox. They aren’t right for every job, but they are particularly well suited to situations like these.