What is a Kaizen event or Kaizen blitz?

Kaizen events, also known as Kaizen blitzes, are short-duration events, usually in the form of a week-long workshop, in which a facilitator guides a team in improving an area with a specific goal in mind.

Typically during a Kaizen event, the facilitator leads the team (which is generally comprised of people who work in the area in which the event is being conducted) in standardizing and documenting processes and identifying, implementing, and documenting improvements to that area. After the event, improvement opportunities are prioritized based on the needs of the business.

What is Kaizen?

“Kaizen” is the philosophy of continuous improvement. Translated from Japanese, the word “kaizen” translates to “changing something for the better.” It was originally used by Japanese businesses after World War II, influenced by teachings in American business and quality management, and became adopted by the Toyota Production System (also known as TPS), where employees are famously required to stop the line if an abnormality arises (known as Jidoka) and, along with their supervisors, suggest an improvement.

Kaizen is used as a tool in lean manufacturing with the goal of eliminating waste by continuously improving standardized processes, equipment, and other procedures for carrying out daily production. The main requirement is that existing procedures be standardized and documented so that improvements can be evaluated objectively.

While Kaizen is primarily associated with manufacturing, it is practiced across all functions of a business and has been adopted by other industries such as healthcare, finance, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, and banking.

Beyond improving workflows, Kaizen is an ongoing process that can facilitate a culture of identifying and correcting inefficiencies and nurture a sense of ownership among workers. It also has the benefit of eliminating wastes in the process by reducing non-value added activities to a minimum.

When to hold a Kaizen event

While the principles of Kaizen should be practiced by all members of an organization on a continual basis, scheduled Kaizen events may be necessary in order to tackle larger problems. Also, maintaining a culture of solving the root cause of problems before they become bigger is key.

Reasons to hold a Kaizen event include:

• Solving an urgent problem that puts the business at risk and needs to be addressed quickly
• Achieving a strategic goal that will impact KPIs
• Identifying and solving the root cause of issues that prevent daily improvement cycles from achieving results
• Solving cross-functional challenges, such as improving the handoff of work between teams, including upstream and downstream events on a production value stream.
• Sustaining the practice of continuous improvement in your company, especially if you haven’t had a Kaizen event in a while
• Introducing new team members to continuous improvement techniques

Benefits of holding a Kaizen event

In addition to the primary benefits of improvement in your standard work processes, holding a Kaizen event can foster problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills and allow employees to demonstrate leadership. Engaging team members to identify problems and suggest improvements in their work areas encourages a sense of ownership over their work, which can improve overall motivation, morale, and productivity. Finally, holding a Kaizen event is one way to reinforce a robust culture of continuous improvement within your organization, after all, the best way to sustain the principles that you want to guide your company is to put them into practice.

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Planning a Kaizen event

Investing time into planning your Kaizen event is critical to the event’s success; in fact, properly planning the event is just as important as the event itself. Set your event up for success by clearly defining the goals and scope of the event and strategically assembling a team that will bring important insights to the table. Here are some key steps to planning your Kaizen event:

Appoint a skilled facilitator

The facilitator should be trained in lean techniques and philosophies and be able to help your team stay on track and motivate them; the facilitator should be someone who is passionate about creating positive change. You may wish to hire a consultant for this role or train a team leader from within your organization. Having a skilled facilitator is key to the success of your Kaizen event.

Make sure leadership is engaged

Make sure your organization understands the importance of the Kaizen event to your business’s bottom line. Gaining buy-in is crucial to the success of your Kaizen initiatives, and if your organization’s leaders are committed to sustaining a culture of continuous improvement, they will set the tone for the rest of the company.

Set the scope and limits of the event

Clearly define the scope of the Kaizen event. The main focus of the event should be an area or process in which it has been determined that inefficiency is reducing value to the customer. The focus can be narrowed by analyzing KPIs, root causes, and other Lean metrics. Keep in mind that the end goal is to promote continuous improvement and reduce waste

Assemble the team

While everyday Kaizen should involve all members of your organization (from employees on the shop floor to upper-level leadership), Kaizen event teams usually consist of 6-10 people and should be strategically chosen. Keep in mind the following when choosing team members:

  • At least half of the team should be made up of people who regularly perform the work that the Kaizen event is intended to improve.
  • Limit the number of managers/company leaders on the team.
  • Choose team members from a wide range of relevant departments, who all touch the process being improved
  • Include people who provide input to the area
  • Include people who receive output from the area
  • Include subject matter experts who have special knowledge about the process. • Include someone who’s not directly involved in the process to provide an outside perspective.

Define success

It’s imperative to be able to objectively measure success from your Kaizen event and other continuous improvement efforts. Identify metrics that quantify improvements. These may include metrics revolving around quality, cost, resource utilization, customer satisfaction, space utilization, staff efficiency, and other KPIs. Set benchmarks for improvement by measuring your current performance.

Provide training

Communicate expectations to the facilitator and team members.

Outline the event schedule

Have a rough schedule mapped out, including what you hope to achieve in the Kaizen event. Identify milestones for each day of the event.

Holding Kaizen events regularly can nurture a culture of continuous improvement.

Holding a Kaizen event:

Here is a typical outline for a week-long Kaizen event:

Day 1: Define your goals for the event. Map and measure the process’s current state and identify wastes. Decide on desired results.

Day 2: Consider the root causes of wastes and identify possible solutions. Achieve consensus on improvements to be implemented. Document resources needed to apply improvements.

Day 3: Implement the improvements.

Day 4: Test the improvements. Measure the results of improvements made and apply any necessary adjustments. Standardize and document new procedures.

Day 5: Train employees on new standard work procedures. Communicate the changes to the organization. Recognize and reward team members who contributed to the success.

Metrics of success: how to measure improvement

Measuring the impact of your Kaizen event is crucial to the success of future Kaizen efforts. In order to accurately measure improvements resulting from your Kaizen event, it’s important to make sure you have complete and accurate data about your operations before, during, and after your Kaizen event. Digitizing your operations using manufacturing software such as Tulip is a good way to gain visibility into your operations. Tulip collects data from your shop-floor employees, machines, and tools as they perform their tasks, so you can get an accurate view of production and quality metrics such as production rate, defect and scrap rate as well as defect causes, and process timing such as process and step cycle times. With this data in hand, you can conduct analyses into the effects of your continuous improvement efforts over time by using Tulip’s real-time analytics tools.

Beyond the Kaizen event

As always, Kaizen doesn’t stop when you’ve successfully completed your Kaizen event. You should see this Kaizen event as just in an ongoing series of efforts and improvements. Building a mindset of continuous improvement among your organization’s culture requires daily practice, and with time, you’ll see an increase in the efficiency, productivity, and quality of your operations.

For more resources to help you achieve continuous improvement in your factory, check out our Ultimate Guide to Kaizen.

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