Kaizen events are short duration improvement projects with a specific aim for improvement; typically they are week long events led by a facilitator with the implementation team being predominantly members of the area in which the kaizen event is being conducted plus a few additional people from support areas and even management.
Kaizen events although normally promoted as one off events should be part of an overall program of continuous improvement if they are to be successful and for gains to be sustained. Events in an environment where they are not supported or understood generally have gains that are quickly eroded over a short period of time as people revert to their original ways of working.
Types of Kaizen Events.
Kaizen events have evolved a large number of names;
- Kaizen Blitz
- Kaizen Burst
- Focused Improvement workshops
- Kaizen workshops
- Continuous Improvement workshops
- Accelerated improvement events
- Rapid process improvement workshops
Kaizen events can also be targeted at specific tools or areas;
Whatever you call them however these events all have common aims and structures and look to harness the ideas and creativity of your workforce in creating a step change improvement in a specific area of your business.
To be successful however a kaizen event requires good leadership and careful planning, failure to provide either will often lead to an event where most of team stand around for the week confused as to what it is they are expected to do.
Successfully implemented a good kaizen event can make major improvements, typical events generating 20% to 100% improvements in areas such as efficiency, quality and delivery performance. Kaizen events should also be applied in areas other than just production, you can often generate significant savings and improvements in service areas of your company, often greater than those traditionally generated in manufacturing.
Planning a Kaizen Event
You need to define exactly what it is you hope to achieve and where you want to achieve it for your kaizen event. The following steps will run through a typical series of tasks that need to be undertaken to have a successful kaizen event. Many of these steps overlap in time and common sense needs to be applied when detailing out a plan for your own kaizen blitz.
Hire or train your facilitator
For any kaizen event to be successful you will need someone to lead and facilitate the event, while the area manager or team leader may be the leader for the event you will want someone experienced in lean techniques and philosophies who is experienced in running these types of events. A good facilitator can help the team to stay on track and pull them in the right directions to achieve the best possible results.
Failure to chose a good facilitator can lead to events which achieve nothing as the attendees become confused and disheartened with the process and cease to participate. If you are choosing a consultant to take this role ask to talk to previous clients to discover their true abilities.
Gain commitment and understanding from management
As with any other initiative it is important for the senior management team to be fully behind it and involved. Failure to get their commitment will of course lead to mediocre results that are almost certain to slip back.
Define the boundaries of the event.
Where do you want to run your kaizen event? Define the boundaries precisely so that everyone knows exactly what areas and departments are involved. If it is a production area for instance show where the event will affect on a floor plan so that everyone understands what is involved.
Define what it is you want to improve
What is the purpose of the event? Is it a 5S kaizen blitz to introduce 5S principles to the area, or are you trying to reduce the space taken up by a production cell to make room for a new product, or maybe you are looking to make things more efficient or reduce lead times. You need to have a clear idea of what it is that you want to achieve before you start in general terms at least, this then needs to be developed into clear goals and measures (see below.)
Let everyone in the company know what it is that you are going to be doing, don’t let this be a surprise, tell them why you are doing it or the rumor mill will go into action.
Create your team
Select the team; generally your team leader will be the supervisor / team leader of the area depending on your company structure. You should ensure that your team leader is positive about creating change and is fully aware of the business case for making improvements, a team leader that is unconvinced or feels threatened can restrict the improvements being made.
Typically team members should comprise of people that work within the area in which the event takes place plus various people from other support areas such as maintenance, administration, sales, etc. It is also worth adding a few people from the next area in which a kaizen event is planned so that they have some experience for the next event.
Define and Implement measures of performance
You need to become more specific about what improvements you wish to make and put in place measures to show current levels of performance. So if you are looking to improve efficiency then you need to put in place measures and begin to gather data to show the current performance which you can then compare against when the event is finished.
Typical measures are;
- Output per person per hour
- Space Utilized
- Travel Distance
- Lead time
- Work in Progress (Inventory)
- Reject Levels
Take photographs and even videos of the area so that people can compare before and after.
Note: If one of the aims is to improve efficiency and thus reduce the manpower required you must ensure that everyone knows that this is to free people for other work not to create redundancies. No improvement project should ever put people out of work; no one will work hard to improve anything if they risk losing their job. All persons released should be utilized elsewhere or trained up to create further improvements.
The team will need to be trained in identifying the seven wastes of lean;
Also they will need training in basic lean principles and in most cases the 5S process as most layout improvements involve aspects of 5S. Select appropriate training for the changes that you need to make. This overview training should take place around a week or so before the actual event.
For any event to be a success you need to have an outline plan of what you are likely to be doing during the blitz. This is where a good experienced facilitator comes in very handy, they are likely to be aware of what things are likely to be changed and needed for your event.
Map out a rough timeline for your event;
- Day 1; Training, data gathering and analysis
- Day2; analysis and modeling
- Day/night 3; Changing of layout
- Day4; Layout refinement, standardized instructions
- Day5; Refinement, presentation to management, Pizza dinner
If you are going to be rearranging layouts then you will need to get electricians, moving equipment and other support arranged for the likely day/night that things will be moved. If you are going to be creating flow with defined areas and clear labeling then you will need floor marking tape, paint, labeling machines etc.
Think and plan ahead and ensure that you have in place everything that you are likely to need for the specific project you will run; from cleaning materials to cranes.
The Kaizen Event
Depending on the nature of your kaizen event have a rough schedule mapped out of what you hope to achieve as in the section above.
Your facilitator should provide training and support to the team as required as well as ensuring that the pace of change is maintained. It is important to ensure that people are enthused and occupied for the bulk of the project; failure to keep them involved will cause you to lose their enthusiasm and support for the changes being made.
If you have a vision of what should be achieved do not be surprised if the team select something else; they are the ones that truly know how things work in their areas and they know what will make their work easier. Do not drag them back to your vision of what things should look like, let the facilitator aid them in creating their vision. Ideas that the team come up with are more likely to be sustainable than ideas forced onto them.
Take photographs and videos as the event unfolds and for the end result, a story board showing before and after results is a great way to train and get the commitment of teams for new areas.
At the end of a project the team should make a presentation to management and even the rest of the workforce to show off what they have achieved as a team. In my experience these events always manage to make surprising advancements that the team is genuinely proud of.
Have the team present their story board showing before and after pictures as well as the benefits that have been gained through the kaizen blitz, if data is available to show how the measures have been impacted then this should be presented also.
In the west we often fail to congratulate our people for a job well done, a simple pizza dinner with a few bottles of soft drinks is an inexpensive but effective way to show our appreciation for a job well done.
Review and Improve
Japanese kaizen is about making many small improvements on a continual basis, your team needs now to continue the work that was done within the event by continuously monitoring the performance of the work area and coming up with more improvements.
If you fail to give the team the time and motivation to continue to improve eventually any gains that you have made through your project will slip back.
Rinse and repeat.
Plan your next event in another area of the company, a kaizen blitz is not meant to be a way to solve a crisis facing the business but an ongoing series of improvements. You should look to run events every month or so depending on the size of your organization, each even in a different area or with a different focus. Each area should be revisited for new events on a regular basis, kaizen is continual change for the better.
Conduct your Kaizen Event Before it is too late.
As I have said a few times within this article and other articles; Kaizen and other lean tools are for continual use as part of an overall drive toward perfection (the fifth of the principles of lean), not as quick fixes when a crisis hits a company. Many times I have been asked to run Kaizen events to solve specific business problems which have arisen and threatened a business’ viability. One company that I was called into a few years ago wanted to improve its layout and reduce costs as it was making heavy losses. They had plans to move into smaller premises to save money (and the business.)
We ran the project and compressed the space required to less than an eighth of what was currently used over a three day workshop, all of the machines being relaid out within the current facility to prove the principles. However the company closed just a few days later as they had left it just too late before taking action; the “good” news however is that their customer (they only had one) purchased the equipment and hired the staff as with the new reduced footprint they could bring the process in house and save themselves some money; and of course maintain their production which had been threatened by this closure.