The beginning of summer must be a good time for Kaizen events because we’ve been getting a lot of questions about them lately. We thought we’d take a few minutes to answer the ones we hear most often. (If you are entirely new to Kaizen events, check out this page.)
Is a Kaizen event the same as a rapid improvement event?
Yep! The technique of deploying a team to be 100% focused on an improvement target for a short period of time goes by a bunch of names. You may also hear it called a Kaizen or improvement blitz.
How long do Kaizen events last?
A typical event lasts 3 – 5 days, but longer events can be planned for appropriate needs. However, it is very important that the team involved be able to remain focused on improvement activities, so shorter is usually better.
Who is involved in a Kaizen event?
There are several key roles to be filled. Most successful events involve the following team members:
Executive Sponsor: This executive level resource provides support and guidance. The executive sponsor serves as a champion and helps to remove any obstacles that come up. The Executive Sponsor is also responsible for making sure that the functions of each team member are covered during the Kaizen event so that participants don’t get distracted from the improvement work. After the event, the Executive Sponsor ensures that success is broadcast to the organization and that participants are recognized for their success.
Team Leader: The Team Leader guides the other participants through the event, helps to arrive at a consensus and keeps the team focused. The Team leader ensures that there are clear objectives for the event and identifies progress milestones. He or she selects the right participants and creates the event agenda.
Data Administrator: The Data Administrator, sometimes called the Recorder or Scribe, makes sure that the details of the event are added to the organization’s repository of knowledge. They document baseline measurements and post-improvement results. Of course, everyone on the team should record their own activities, but it is useful to have one person responsible for the overall efforts to preserve what is learned.
Directly Impacted Team Members: These are people who are personally involved with the process that is targeted for improvement. They are likely to be the most impacted by process flaws and waste, so their thoughts and ideas should be given great deference during the event.
Outsider Participants: This is an optional role, but it is often useful to bring in someone who is less familiar with the process to get a fresh point of view. You may consider including customers, partners, suppliers, consultants, or members of another functional area within the company.
What are the benefits of a Kaizen Event?
The specific benefits of your Kaizen event will depend on the issue you are addressing, but beyond the direct results of the improvement organizations that use them successfully enjoy:
Bottom-up problem solving: Kaizen events are a great way to get front-line employees active and involved in improvement and reinforce the belief that everyone can contribute to positive change.
Hands-on training: The best way to help people learn any improvement technique is to let them try it. An improvement event is an excellent opportunity to use a variety of Lean tools including PDSA, the 5-whys, and value stream mapping.
Leadership opportunities: Not everyone can have an official leadership role, but Kaizen events give organizations the chance to let anyone who is ready for the challenge lead a small group for a short period of time. Many are surprised to find that they have hidden talent on their team.
When should Kaizen events be used?
Rapid improvement events are not the solution for every problem. Some issues simply can’t be resolved in short order and require more involvement from top leadership than you would see in a Kaizen event. However, they can be very effective when:
The problem is serious and quick action is needed: If a process has broken down and it’s time to drop everything and respond, a Kaizen event is an excellent tool to deploy.
There is an opportunity to get big gains: Even if the problem isn’t acute, you may choose to do a Kaizen event if there is a lot of potential upsides. This may happen when waste is apparent or there is an opportunity to significantly speed a process, or reduce defects.
Other improvement techniques aren’t working: Sometimes daily improvement efforts run into a roadblock or challenge that just won’t seem to budge. A dedicated event may be exactly the right remedy.
The problem or process involves more than one functional area: Cross-functional collaboration is often difficult to achieve when everyone is concerned with their primary duties. That’s why Kaizen events are great for issues that require the involvement of people from different parts of the organization.
How are Kaizen events structured?
We provide a detailed roadmap for Kaizen events here. The short version is that attention should be paid to what happens before, during and after the event.
Before: A clear charter and well-defined agenda are essential to success.
During: The right improvement techniques should be employed, all team members should be actively engaged, and relevant information about the event should be captured.
After: The results of any implemented improvement should be measured over time to calculate the total impact of the event. Success should be broadcast and team members should be recognized for their achievements.
How does software help?
Improvement software can help significantly boost the results of a Kaizen event by providing structure for the work. The best solutions have built-in notifications and alerts to help keep everyone in the loop and facilitate cross-functional collaboration. The software serves as the home for all related documents and conversations, making it easy to capture everything that is learned and share that information with the entire organization.
We’ve covered the questions we here most often, but we’re sure there are others? If you have another question to add, please drop it in the comments. We’ll respond to as many as we can.