A typical kaizen event consists of a day of training, a day of process walking and analyzing the process, followed by two days of improvement activity. The final morning (Friday) is used for wrap-up, training on the new process, and preparing a report out, which is usually presented late morning or early afternoon.
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A kaizen event is one of many tools in a Lean toolkit, though it is often, mistakenly, overemphasized in its importance. Typically an organization that is new to Lean tends to limit its continuous improvement activity to kaizen events. Not surprisingly then, frontline employees associate Lean primarily with kaizen events. As an organization matures, it begins to focus more on daily improvement activity, and uses kaizen events more strategically.
A kaizen event is best suited for projects in which a production area needs an overhaul, or where the solution is not known. Some problems are simple and can be figure out with individual effort. More complicated problems often require collective brainpower. The structured, team-based problem solving effort that a kaizen event offers can overcome the toughest of problems.
Kaizen events are also especially helpful when there is a need for dramatic results quickly. If a new product line is being rolled out in a month, a kaizen event on an existing line to reduce the footprint by 50% might be just the answer.
The results of a well-led, well-coached, well-selected, well-staffed kaizen event can be dramatic. 90% reductions, whether in floorspace, cycle time, lead time, or inventory are not unheard of, though typical gains tend to be somewhat lower. 20-50% improvements are more typical.
Events serve two primary purposes. One is to get results, and the other is to train team members. Both occur in every event, but the way the team and goals are structured, and the time leaders commit to mentoring both affect where the needle lands on the scale. For critical projects, stack the team with experienced ringers. For learning-focused events, match up people new to kaizen with a handful of experts to encourage coaching. Set expectations accordingly.
Reporting the results of a kaizen event is tricky. Most teams self-report, and often include projected results in their tally. That leads to inflation. Some results are indisputable, though. If the floorspace is freed up and something else moves in, it is a real gain. If cycle time is reduced and a person is freed up to work somewhere else, it is a real gain. If production doubles without adding people, it is a real gain. If injuries drop significantly, it is a real gain.
The basic flow of a kaizen event covers about 6 weeks. This includes the planning, the event week, and follow-up. A full kaizen event calendar is available at http://www.velaction.com/kaizen-checklist/.
Kaizen events are known by a variety of names. These include:
Kaizen events can be a challenge for you, especially if you are in a role where there is little backup for you. This seldom happens on the shop floor. An assembly line does not pile up work waiting for a person to return. Office workers are not so fortunate. Often, they finish a kaizen event with a massive mountain of work on their desk.
Before agreeing to be on a team, ask about the recovery plan. You may not always have a choice, but try to negotiate help in advance. You will get a great deal more out of the project if you are not distracted by the pain your absence will cause you. Keep in mind that this argument carries more weight if you go through the same thing when you go on vacation.
Once you are on the event, try to get the most out of it. Pay attention in training, and take notes. The act of writing reinforces lessons. Also, volunteer to take on tasks. If you are doing things you like, you’ll probably be more focused, and can learn more. Just make sure to get out of your comfort zone so you can add to your skill set.
Also work on developing relationships and contacts. You may not have a lot of opportunities to do this in your normal role. If you intend to advance in your company, knowing people can help. This isn’t to advocate office politics. Rather, you’ll be more effective if you have a network of people you can go to with problems. And you’ll earn a good reputation if you help those people when they come to you for help.
One of the most common mistakes companies make with kaizen events is to treat them like something out of the ordinary. The occasional late nights are fine, but if every kaizen event is a brutal marathon that disrupts home lives, people will soon start viewing them negatively. It will make volunteers hard to find, and the team will be distracted.
When developing a kaizen calendar, try to focus on strategic initiatives. These often come from policy deployment action plans. The majority of the calendar can be filled far in advance, but be sure to leave space for the inevitable problems that come up. Find the balance between keeping a steady pace and not overwhelming the organization.
At the beginning of each project you should also decide the tone of the event. Is it going to be a hard-charging, results-oriented affair, or is it going to slow down to focus on mentoring and skill building? Make sure that you have a healthy mix of both. Early on in a Lean journey, you’ll probably be biased towards the learning events, with the mix drifting towards loading teams with experience once more people have a few kaizen events under their belts.
Because kaizen events combine a variety of skills and tools, a well-rounded education plan is essential. We recommend starting with our problem solving DVDs, or, if you want to bite off a little more, try the complete DVD pack. Both are available at www.Velaction.com.
The following forms and tools are available at http://www.velaction.com/products-services/lean-products/lean-forms/ to help you run kaizen events.
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