Leaders typically deploy Kaizen events when there is a difficult or urgent challenge that needs to be addressed in short order. The obvious benefit of this rapid approach to improvement is that the target process or problem gets solved. That’s awesome, but in most cases, there are many improvement tools that could be deployed to address a known issue. We’re big fans of most of them, but in our experience, Kaizen events have some unique advantages that shouldn’t be ignored when comparing them to your other options.
In addition to a problem solved, Kaizen events can result in:
1 - Practice Defining and Documenting Baseline Metrics
One of the key steps in preparing for a Kaizen event is deciding which performance indicators will be used to measure success, and determining how those KPIs will be measured and documented. The level of care in gathering baseline metrics is typically higher during a Kaizen event than many daily, incremental changes, so the event provides a good opportunity to practice and perfect this important skill.
2 - Improved Cross-Functional Collaboration
It is very common for organizations to find that the biggest opportunities for improvement lie where one process joins another or where work is shifted from one team to the next. That’s why Kaizen events often involve people from more than one functional area, shift, or department. Bringing together folks from many points of view often accelerates improvement and it gives the team the opportunity to refine their skills working with different experiences and approaches to problems. Kaizen events are a good opportunity to establish a common language for improvement and process components.
3 - Expansion of the Repository of Knowledge
When Kaizen events are properly documented, preferably in improvement software designed for that specific purpose, they add to the organization’s overall tribal knowledge. Lessons can be learned and retained from each event, making future improvement projects more effective. The documentation is also an outstanding tool for bringing new team members up to speed on both processes and the techniques used to make them better.
4 - Opportunity for More Team Members to Demonstrate Leadership
Each Kaizen event needs to have a team leader who is responsible for bringing the team together, coordinating the event, and making sure that each role is filled successfully. They will also be the point person for the executive sponsor and request help if additional resources become necessary or if a roadblock is encountered. The person who leads the team does not have to be in a management role. In fact, Kaizen events present the opportunity to let more folks try on the role of leader. Managers are often surprised by who is able and willing to step up when given the chance.
5 - Clarity About Priorities
Executive leaders may not be delighted by us pointing this out, but suggesting a Kaizen event to target a particular problem is a good way of determining if solving that problem is a high priority for leaders. Of course, Kaizen events are not the right solution for every issue. Some problems are simply too complex to address in a short time frame. But if a Kaizen event makes sense for a defined problem, leaders’ willingness to invest the required resources to focus on it for a few days, is useful information about the urgency and importance of the process or problem to be addressed.
6 - Enhanced Ownership of the Process
When employees are involved in documenting and improving a process, they tend to become more engaged and willing to take ownership of it. People who spend time thinking about and implementing positive change are less likely to slip back into old habits and more likely to stick to the new plan and find ways to make it even better still.
7 - Improved Standard Work Documentation
If changes are implemented during a Kaizen event, one of the deliverables is new Standard Work documentation. (In fact, is isn’t uncommon that the development of Standard Work is the main objective of the Kaizen event.) Standard Work documentation is an essential tool for laying the foundation for future improvement, measuring employee performance, and bringing new employees up to speed quickly. It is essential that Standard Work be kept up to date, a goal which every Kaizen event should accomplish.
As we said at the outset, there are many tools in the continuous improvement toolbox. Kaizen events are one that comes along with a bunch of additional returns. It is a good idea to include these bonus benefits when you assess the success of your events.