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How Kaizen is Imperative to LEAN Success


Kaizen is a Japanese term that relates to making continuous improvement in organizations through improving the process. Kaizen events have been met with opposition by many organizations because for it to work successfully, employees must step away from their jobs between three and five days to participate in the events. Rather than take a preventative approach, employers are more likely to use kaizen events to address problems retroactively. This approach is ineffective. To have the most impact in your organization, there should be some proactive assessments of the organization to achieve LEAN success.

What to Expect From a Kaizen Event

The three to five day events will consist of activities, which may include: brainstorming, training, documenting the current state of the organization, and defining problems and goals. Once these activities are complete, a kaizen event may address the implementation process, how to address a follow-up plan, and how to present results. The events will also teach organizations to celebrate successes and keep their employees motivated through rewards.

How Kaizen Events Have Been Used to Achieve LEAN Success

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) has been used in the past to improve equipment reliability. Product development process and product design manufacturability has been improved using kaizen events also. Some companies have used kaizen events to organize the workplace using 5S concepts or change a process using equipment. 5S can promote efficiency and productivity by sorting, straightening, shining, standardising, and sustaining processes to achieve the goal.

When kaizen events cannot solve a problem in an organization, Six Sigma analysis is often employed to reduce waste and yield improvement. In general, if a team needs to meet regularly over a period of time to solve a problem, Six Sigma is recommended. Otherwise, it will require only a kaizen team meeting.

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During a kaizen event, employees are encouraged to come up with ideas that will achieve results and improve efficiency and productivity. In order for a kaizen event to be successful, several activities must occur or milestones must be achieved:

1. Discover and Address Problems at the Source

During a kaizen event, team members must discover problems and create solutions to address them at the source. This will prevent the “band-aid effect” where problems keep reoccurring because the root of the problem was not eliminated. Kaizen events teach employees to avoid this problem, which leads to LEAN success.

2. Concentrate on Small Improvements for Immediate Results

Team members must concentrate on small improvements to get immediate results. This may involve the use of creative investments. Small improvements are less daunting and more achievable. Focus on creating small improvements for big overall results. This is important for LEAN success.

3. Make Better Use of Capacity and Capital

For LEAN success, team members must make better use of production capacity and capital. When production capacity is increased, more product can be produced as long as the process is efficient. They must also increase employee retention with a kaizen event. When new employees do not have to be constantly retrained, the processes remain more efficient and fewer defects are produced. LEAN success can be achieved when team members master this concept during a kaizen event.

4. Decrease Waste in the Production Process

Team members must work to decrease waste in all aspects of the production process. When waste is reduced, less money is spent trying to dispose of the waste and also on materials that created the waste. Plans can be devised at the Kaizen event to decrease or eliminate waste in the production process. This will lead to LEAN success.

5. Eliminate or Transform Existing Procedures

Team members must work to eliminate extraneous procedures or transform existing procedures. This will give the organization more productivity and efficiency and get team members one step closer to LEAN Success.

Keep in mind that the Kaizen approach involves applying best practices and using your employees strengths to grow your business. You can develop your competitive advantage by identifying how people can contribute to the business. Start by measuring all of the possible metrics and standardizing your work culture. This will help you address the problem and achieve success sooner.

How to Guarantee Success at Your Kaizen Event

1. Create a Cross-Functional Team and Involve Employees

Create a cross-functional team of employees that works in the process area where the kaizen event will be held. Members from other areas with a fresh perspective can also be invited. Operators should also be invited to facilitate communication throughout the organization. This will prevent confusion.

Many facilitators recommend placing a flip chart in the area where employees work. When ideas are posted before the event begins, discussions will be more fruitful. For the most success, employees must remain informed throughout the entire event and the operators should be evaluated after the event.

2. Plan Your Event in Advance

Most people fail to plan the event in advance, and the events become ineffective because there is no clear direction. LEAN success cannot be achieved in this instance. Thus, to ensure success objectives, deliverables, and metrics must be defined. Bring all the necessary supplies to the event such as post-it notes, paint, and tape. Be sure to reserve a space large enough for your event.

3. Spend More Time on the Floor than in the Classroom

Eighty percent of your time should be spend on the floor planning and designing. The remaining 20 percent of the time should be spent in the classroom. This will ensure the event is fruitful, which will lead to LEAN success. Keep in mind that a Vision event will require more classroom time.

4. Implement the Plan, Do, Check, Act/Adjust (PDCA)

Apply PDCA to your kaizen event for LEAN success. Plan what you are going to accomplish on each day. Then, review what you did each day. Next, determine the results, and determine what you plan to do the next day. Adjust the plan for additional success. Always follow up to determine the success of the event.

5. Stay Focused on the Event

Stay focused on the event and don’t let big issues deter you from completing the tasks in your organization. Any homework from the event should be minimal.

Kaizen events help organizations think long-term rather than short term. Organizations must learn how to view beyond just an operational point of view. Instead, they must realize that Kaizen is about cultural change. The concept created by the kaizen master, Masaaki Imai, in the 1980s is highly effective if applied properly. Organizations must use the concepts and learn how to avoid failure in applications that have not been successful in the past. LEAN success can be achieved when kaizen events are held and the plans are implemented. Try a kaizen event in your organization.