Kaizen events, sometimes called rapid improvement events, are an effective way of solving difficult challenges within organizations. A team of stakeholders and subject matter experts takes a few days away from regular order to focus on improving a process. Because the effort is concentrated, root causes can be identified, and potential fixes implemented in short order. The obvious goal of a Kaizen event is to solve the issue at hand, usually defined in a project charter.
So, if your event ends in an improved process that results in better performance, it was a success. But smart leaders can get a lot more out of Kaizen events than improved processes and solved problems. This kind of emersion in improvement work is rare, and it presents a valuable opportunity for employee development.
Many Kaizen events require cross-functional collaboration. Process breakdowns often happen when work moves from one functional area to another, so solving them usually means bringing people from different teams together. Teamwork is required before the event to outline the scope of the project and define how the event will unfold. It’s necessary during the work as different perspectives and motives are shared. Team members must develop the critical skills of active listening and clear communication.
If your organization has been dedicated to continuous improvement and the Kaizen mindset for some time, that way of thinking is probably second nature to your employees. But people who are new to the organization may not have been exposed to the language and tools of continuous improvement. Kaizen events offer an effective way to introduce new people to tools like PDSA, the 5 Whys, and value stream maps.
Every Kaizen event presents the opportunity for employees to practice leadership. Someone takes on the role of facilitator and helps shepherd the team through the improvement process. Whether it’s an employee’s first Kaizen event or their 50th, it is the perfect time to build both practical and “soft” skills. Employees who aren’t in the facilitator role can be encouraged to think about what qualities they appreciate in the leader.
When you start to peel back the layers of the onion on one process, there’s a good chance that adjacent opportunities for improvement will be discovered. While it is essential to keep the Kaizen event within the scope of its charter, additional ideas for positive change can be collected and documented in the improvement management system. They may be addressed with a simple improvement cycle or may require a future Kaizen event.
If your organization leverages improvement management software to document and manage your Kaizen events, every cycle will lead to more information in your repository of knowledge. Processes will be better understood, and the data will be available to others for future projects.
Ideally, at the end of a Kaizen event that yields positive results, the success will be broadcast widely. When other employees see that the team achieved its aims and was recognized for the effort, improvement starts to snowball, and organizations see an increase in ideas for improvement and engagement.
One of the smartest things that leaders can do following an improvement event is to assess the experience and results to determine if improvements can be made for future Kaizen events or other improvement work. Did the team have the tools they needed? Was the plan effective? Was there enough executive support in place? Were the objectives clear and aligned with strategic priorities? Asking these and other relevant questions will help create a roadmap for even better results in the future.
Solving problems with Kaizen events is excellent. Developing employees and contributing to the organization’s collective wisdom is even better. Keep these goals in mind the next time your team sets out to get to work on a difficult challenge.
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