Most Kaizen events have a very clear goal with a specific process targeted for immediate improvement. That’s very good and we always advocate for careful planning and a well-defined charter for any rapid improvement event. But it is also important to be aware of the ancillary benefits of Kaizen events because there are good reasons to do them from time-to-time beyond the obvious improvements that are implemented. Here are four big ones.
Bottom-Up Problem Solving
The ideal state for most organizations is one in which the leadership sets the strategy and the staff creatively defines the tactics and works to solve problems in order to reach the strategic objectives. Kaizen events are an ideal way to practice this approach. Teams can apply their most innovative thinking to challenges that are impeding strategy execution. This requires leaders to get very good at communicating strategy and trusting the people who do the day-to-day work to understand how it applies to the processes that they oversee. This makes everyone better at their primary role and improves engagement across the board.
If you’ve ever taken a college level chemistry course, you’ve probably had experience with the lecture/lab approach to learning. It’s one thing to talk about how certain elements interact with each other, but quite another to see it happen. Organizations that adopt the Kaizen philosophy spend a great deal of effort on training, but nothing can replace the hands-on experience. During a Kaizen event, experienced team members will have the chance to talk about how the techniques, values, and tools used during the event can be leveraged by the team on a day-to-day basis.
Effective team work is essential to a successful Kaizen event. The fact that the effort is concentrated in a short period of time and targeted at an important, often high-visibility opportunity for improvement raises the stakes for cross-functional collaboration. This gives participants the chance to overcome challenges that are common to many organizations such as functional silos and zero-sum thinking. Team members must develop the essential skills of active listening and clear communication.
One of the biggest benefits of a successful Kaizen event is that it reminds everyone that improvement is possible, that they can contribute to it, and that leadership has confidence in the team to execute. It is also the case that people who have been involved in events that yield positive results become advocates for improvement. They become more sure of their ability to enact positive change and empowered to practice Kaizen all of the time.
A well-executed Kaizen event can have a much bigger impact than just the improvements to the target process. It can lead to employees who are more engaged, excited, and capable. The skills required to participate in rapid improvement are valuable every single day.