How to lead the most efficient Kaizen event?

Kaizen has recently taken many companies by storm. Companies are always looking for improvement and Kaizen offers precisely that. It may not be always the easiest process to follow, and some argue that by implementing it you are sacrificing other aspects that your company shouldn’t be missing out on. Despite this, it has been proven that by using Kaizen a company can structure itself and truly see results in their procedures. One of the ways that Kaizen improves processes is by holding small events by the owners and operators of a process so that everyone takes a few days off of work and attends to fully concentrate on ways to improve procedures. Kaizen events gather everyone in one place, map out the existing process, improve the existing process and finally solicits buy-in from all parties that have something to do with the process.

By implementing Kaizen events you cannot only successfully improve a process that your company has, but also convince those who may be skeptical about the methodologies value how it works. During these events, which usually take anywhere from three to five days, there can be a variety of activities like training, implementation, presenting results and celebrating successes. During the sessions the teams define problems and goals, document the current state and develop follow-up plans. The time is taken out of the normal schedule, so some people may be reluctant about participating, feeling they are losing time from their real jobs. Due to this you will find some companies replace the event with ongoing projects lead by teams, which does not have the same result. If the event is done correctly the time will pay itself, since when everyone gets back to the office the plans designed and implemented will make them more productive. Kaizen helps employees attack problems head on, instead of finding temporary solutions, it applies permanent ones. Kaizen can improve product development process, the manufacturability of a product design or the creation of a one-piece-flow work cell.

The Kaizen process can be divided into 10 steps, which should be followed during the event to ensure you don’t get off track. Initially, you have to define the problem. This should be done by everyone who makes part of the process to ensure that the problem defines the real issue. Once you’ve determined the real problem, you must document the current situation from everyone’s perspective. Visualize the ideal situation you would want you and your team to be in.  To reach that ideal situation, you must define measurement targets you’ll have to reach. Now begin the brainstorming process to finding a solution to the problem. Now, the team is ready to develop a Kaizen plan and implement that plan. Now, you’ll have to keep track so you have to measure, record and compare results to the targets you had determined earlier. To visualize the information, prepare summary documents and create a short term action plan, on-going standards and sustaining plan.

Creative Teamwork_kaizen_david kiger
Image courtesy of Creative Sustainability at Flickr.com

Your team’s input will make the difference because if they are not on board, any changes that are made during the Kaizen event will be lost in a short amount of time. You will see the team going back to old habits in no time. During the event to make sure that you all the participants are heard including the leader of the process, a front-line worker and an outside person who is not familiar with the process. If the decision is made and it passed through all of the people who attended the event, it will most likely be the best possible solution for the problem you started off with.

Kaizen’s are usually used to confront certain themes such as: improving customer forms received in good order, streamlining the reporting of hours worked to payroll or reducing the submission to completion cycle time for facilities requests. If the topic cannot be resolved during the session, it may not be a problem for a Kaizen event.

The improvement activities that come out of a Kaizen event will be viewed as simple and short-term solutions that can have ongoing processes. It provides just-in-time process improvements that will not be drawn out over weeks or months. By empowering the participants, you can ensure that any task that was not accomplished they will feel motivated to complete them, but as part of the process they should do so in the next 30 days. This way you can experience how your organization, same as many others that have begun to Kaizen, demonstrate sustainable improvements.

Organizations that want to really improve their current procedures and witness hands on and motivated employees should give Kaizen a try. Although, you should always make sure you follow the process so as to not demotivate employees by attempting to implement it and then not succeeding due to a lack of structure.

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