March madness is in full swing, and we’re not going to lie. We’ve got basketball on the brain. The level of talent and dedication that players display even when they don’t win the game is truly inspiring. As spectators, we see the game. What we don’t see are the countless hours of practice, the sacrifice, the workouts, the strategy sessions, and all of the other hard work that goes into competing at this level. We’re impressed.
A Kaizen event is a bit like a basketball game. In order to win in basketball, there are some things you need to do during the game, but also a bunch of stuff that needs to happen off the court. The same is true for completing a successful Kaizen event. You must strive for great execution while the event is in progress, but much of the work happens before it begins and after it ends. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind if you want your next event to be as easy as an uncontested layup.
Learn the Fundamentals
Some ball players are born with a ton of talent, but even they need to learn the basic fundamentals of the game. Your team may be very good at problem-solving, but if they have never participated in a Kaizen event, or if it has been a while, it is important to provide training and open communication. They should understand why Kaizen events are used, how they are structured, and what to expect before, during, and after.
We would never argue that Kaizen events should take the place of daily, incremental improvement, but if your organization is going to use them, they should be done regularly enough to keep everyone in game-day shape. Practice alone is a good enough reason to justify a Kaizen event from time-to-time.
Choose the Right Opponent
A Kaizen event is not the right solution for every problem. Some issues are just too difficult to be tackled in a short period of time. Others may require a more top-down approach. Look for issues that have some sense of urgency that can reasonably be addressed by a small team giving their full attention for three to five days.
Cover All Positions
Today’s basketball players don’t quite stick to the positions of guard, forward, and center like they used to, but everyone does have a specific role on the floor. Your “players” should also be assigned specific responsibilities. Someone will need to be the facilitator. You’ll also want an executive sponsor who can help remove any obstacles that get in your path. It may be appropriate to have one or more subject matter experts on the team. You’ll definitely want to include stakeholders who will be impacted by the changes made as a result of the Kaizen event.
Craft a Game Plan
The project charter for your Kaizen event is an essential element of success. It should document the target process to be addressed, define what success looks like, and identify the key performance indicators that will be used to measure that success. The plan should include a roadmap with milestones. During the planning process, the team should review the results of past events that were applied to similar problems in much the same way that basketball teams watch game tape.
Once you get started, it is important for the team to be in constant communication so that no balls get dropped. The best way to achieve this is to use improvement software designed to support Kaizen efforts. This way, team members, managers, and executives can track the progress of the event and jump in to help if momentum is stalled.
Another advantage it offers is the ability to calculate the impact of the event when it is over. You’ll know that you’ve “won” if the objectives you identified during your planning phase are actually achieved.
It’s pretty obvious when a basketball game is over, but when is your Kaizen event over? Although it may feel like it is done on the last scheduled day, the event itself is only the beginning. Work will continue long after as the team documents the event, makes changes to Standard work or other related artifacts, evaluates the immediate results, and conducts periodic reviews to measure the lasting impact. In fact, we’d argue that the Kaizen event isn’t over until a new improvement cycle is applied to the target process.
Perhaps this basketball analogy has been a bit hokey, but we do think there is value in thinking about Kaizen events in the same way you would another type of competition. You’ve got to get proficient and be prepared. We wish you the best of luck on your next rapid improvement event (and in your office pool).