When and How to Use Kaizen Events

November 1, 2005
By Darren Dolcemascolo

Many organizations are reluctant to utilize kaizen events because such events take a team of employees away from their "real jobs" for 3 to 5 days at a time. Companies often choose to substitute kaizen events with projects assigned to one or two individuals. Because of a lack of perceived importance and a lack of substantial participation and buy-in, very rarely does this result in true improvement. In fact, it often results in organizations claiming that lean does not work for them.

When I encounter companies in this situation, I argue that the effects of a properly planned and executed kaizen event will pay for the perceived "lost time" of the participants many times over. In fact, their "real jobs" will become easier because they will include less "firefighting" and more productive activities since kaizen events will address many of the day-to-day problems with permanent solutions instead of band aids. Earlier this year, I wrote about what makes kaizen events effective in an article called The Power of Kaizen. In this month's article on the subject, you will learn when kaizen events should be used for maximum impact.

Recall that kaizen events are focused 3 to 5 day breakthrough events that generally include the following activities:

  • Training
  • Defining the Problem/Goals
  • Documenting the Current State
  • Brainstorming and Developing a Future State
  • Implementation
  • Developing a Follow-up Plan
  • Presenting Results
  • Celebrating Successes

  • This process works in a variety of situations to solve a variety of problems. Kaizen events are often planned using value stream mapping to target the right areas for improvement. Following is a list of some of the problems that can be solved using kaizen events:

  • Decreasing changeover time on a piece of equipment or process. Using kaizen, a team can improve upon the time to changeover equipment using the SMED system, developed by Shigeo Shingo.
  • Organizing the workplace using 5S.
  • Creating a one-piece flow workcell.
  • Developing a pull system.
  • Improving equipment reliability through TPM (Total Productive Maintenance).
  • Improving the manufacturability of a product design.
  • Improving a product development process.
  • Improving other administrative processes such as order processing, procurement, engineering change processing, and other paperwork/information processing activities.

  • Kaizen events, however, cannot solve any problem within an organization. There are certain types of improvements for which other methods should be used. Process Improvements (such as “Six Sigma” type analysis) aimed at yield improvement and variation/scrap reduction are key examples. Suppose that a particular process has a first-pass yield of only 85% when it would need to be much closer to 100% to run in a one-piece flow environment. If the process must be analyzed using experiments and statistical methods, it would make sense to utilize a team but not a kaizen event. To implement these type of improvements, a problem solving team (or a six sigma team) that meets regularly over a period of time works better than a kaizen team meeting for five consecutive days.

    In order to utilize kaizen events effectively, it is important to understand the types of problems for which kaizen events should and should not be used. With proper planning, kaizen events can bring breakthrough improvement to an organization on its lean journey.

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