Planning and Facilitating Kaizen Events

June 1, 2004
By Darren Dolcemascolo

Kaizen events are powerful. They enable rapid improvements over a very short period of time. However, the biggest problem that I have seen with kaizen is the seemingly random selection of particular areas or processes. The goal of any kaizen event should be to improve the overall system. An organization that wants to implement lean manufacturing should first use Value Stream Mapping (VSM) as its tool for identifying and prioritizing kaizen opportunities. The only possible exception to this rule is the use of kaizen events to implement 5S. All lean manufacturers should have 5S in place company-wide (though value stream mapping might still aid an organization in selecting the starting point for 5S). Assuming you’ve mapped your value streams and are ready to start process-level kaizen activities, what do you do next? This article will discuss 5 steps to planning and performing kaizen events.

Step 1: Selecting an Area

You may have identified several high-priority kaizen opportunities through Value Stream Mapping. Some additional selection ideas you might use for a first kaizen event include the following:

  • Select an area that has a relatively sound process and a high likelihood of success. It is important to succeed quickly in the first kaizen event to build momentum for the subsequent events.
  • Select an area that will be good for visibly demonstrating improvement to the rest of the organization.
  • Select an area that is small and self-contained. For example, you might have a cell (or the opportunity to create a cell) that produces a complete product and is not dependent on other processes in the organization.
  • Step 2: Selecting Team Members

    A good size kaizen team ranges from 6 to about 12 members. Team members for a kaizen event should include the following:

  • People from the selected area (about 50%)
  • Maintenance person.
  • People from production control, warehouse, other production areas, quality, design engineering, manufacturing engineering. This depends on the area on which you are focused.
  • Customers, suppliers, consultants as needed.
  • The person you select as the event leader must have experience and should not be from the particular area selected. We recommend that the first few kaizen events be professionally conducted; select a consultant that has experience conducting such events. Also, select a consultant that states his intention to help your organization become self-sufficient at conducting kaizen events.

    Step 3: Preparing the Area

    Specific supplies will depend on the area in which your kaizen event is being done. In production areas, you will likely need hand tools, tape, cardboard, tape measures, stopwatch, connectors to link up utilities, carts, safety equipment, cleaning supplies, and forklifts. If it is a non-production area such as a design-for-manufacturability or information flow improvement event, you will not need much of the equipment mentioned above.

    Regardless of the area you have selected, you will need flip charts, markers, dry erase board, and a conference room.

    You will also need to gather as much baseline information about the area as possible: customer requirements, layouts or drawings, flow charts, procedures, etc. If you’ve done your value stream mapping up-front, much of this should be at your fingertips. Have all of this available for the team on the first day of the event.

    Step 4: Game Day – Performing the Event Itself

    For a five-day Kaizen event, the event proceeds as follows:

  • Day 1: Lean Training with emphasis on a particular tool (5S, DFM, SMED, etc.)
  • Day 2: Complete Training; this may include teambuilding exercise(s). Document current state
  • Day 3: Brainstorming; Idea Selection (future state); Future state formulation
  • Day 4: Implementation of Future State (implement as much as possible); Develop action plan for items that cannot be implemented during event.
  • Day 5: Complete Implementation odds-and-ends; Final Report out and celebration

  • Step 5: Follow Up

    There must be a follow up to the action plan developed during the event. Sometimes, the consultant will do this as part of the project. Regular meetings should be held until action items have been completed. The remaining action items should be visibly posted in the area until they have been completed.

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