Just like any event, adequate preparation is a key factor in kaizen event success. Always be sure to allocate sufficient time to prepare for your kaizen event. That said, it’s best to plan kaizen preparation in addition to your actual kaizen event.

Our first tool in this effort is a kaizen timeline. A kaizen project plan timeline ensures that adequate attention is given to kaizen preparation, kaizen event, post-event activities by the kaizen team.

On that note, while it’s recommended that the typical kaizen plan allocates 6 total weeks for all related kaizen event activities, two of those weeks should be set aside solely for preparing for the kaizen event.

Following preparation, one week is allocated for the actual event, and three weeks are allotted for post kaizen event activities. It’s worth mentioning that the five weeks excluding the event week, don’t consist of fulltime work. That said, although the two weeks of preparation and three weeks of post-event activities don’t require fulltime attention, they can’t be neglected. Failing to adequately execute pre-event or post-event activities will sabotage event effectiveness.

Kaizen Event Timeline

Figure 1: Kaizen Event Timeline

Below are key components of adequate kaizen preparation over a two-week schedule.

Kaizen Event Week 1

  1. Determine kaizen problem statement. Ultimately, your project should aim to improve a specific problem. Thus, it’s important that we agree on what the problem is.First, we must define the type of problem we are tackling. The problem type refers to fundamentally what is or is not occurring. There are 3 primary types of problems:
    1. A current standard is not being achieved.
    2. A new or higher standard is now required.
    3. Standard conformance variance.

    Recognizing that all problems are ultimately deviations from a standard, we must always also quantify the impact of the problem.

    Also, we must determine the scope of the problem. The problem scope refers to who the problem involves and affects, where the problem occurs, and when the problem occurs. Furthermore, it is also good practice to also explicitly state the inverse. For example, might state what processes are not affected by this problem. The value of answering these questions is keeping the kaizen team on task and preventing scope creep.

    Keep in mind that depending on the scope of the primary problem, it may be necessary to further breakdown the larger problem into smaller, more distinct problems and focus your kaizen event on one or more of those first.

  2. Define kaizen event goals. Once we’ve defined our problem statement, we must explicitly define the goal(s) of our kaizen project. We do this by quantifying the impact we plan to have. Remember to always make your goal statement SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound).
  3. Assign team members and roles. It’s best to limit the size of your point kaizen team to no more than 10 people, preferably 6 to 8. Much research anecdotal evidence shows that the bigger the team gets, the more challenging it is to make decisions and work together to effectively solve problems. Choose selectively as it is vital that top experts become part of the point kaizen team. By experts, we mean the people who do the type of work every day and have mastered their craft. In a manufacturing environment, this may be machine operators. In an office environment, this may be administrative associates or accountants. In a healthcare setting, this may mean nurses and healthcare aids. You may also consider including some other functional type roles such as manufacturing engineers and maintenance professionals on the team as well. It is often beneficial to include people from completely different areas on the team since they provide fresh perspectives on the task at hand. Thus, if your event is planned in a manufacturing environment, it may help to have someone from the finance department since they may see the process from a different angle. These people normally add a lot of value since they ask a lot of questions on why and how things are done the way they are. It’s highly recommended that all kaizen events also include a financial lead (from accounting or finance) who is responsible for financial analysis related to the project and its benefits.An easy and effective way to achieve a good balance team is to think of the 1/3 Rule. One-third of the team members should come from the work area being focused on, one-third of the team should come from upstream and downstream processes and one-third of team members should come from entirely outside of the process.The next role to be selected is the kaizen team leader. Your candidate should be experienced with continuous improvement tools but doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert lean practitioner. They should also be a good facilitator even though they are still more likely in training when talking about kaizen facilitation.The team leader should fully understand the objectives and expectations of management for the kaizen event. Getting this done early on is very important so there are no surprises or unexpected situations later in the process.
  4. Collect relevant data. In order to select the right project, some aspects of data collection should have already happened. You need to ensure that this data is accurate and concise and ready for the kaizen team to utilize during the event. You may need to conduct extra data collection activities, including things like recording video of a certain process before the event commences. This can also be done during the first few days of the event but it’s better to have this prepared before the event so that things go smoothly.
  5. Define kaizen event schedule. Once the team members and team leader have been finalized, it’s time to schedule the event. It’s best to allow the senior management team in the company to set a date so that everyone in the company understands the commitment to kaizen is coming from the top of the company. Although it’s not absolutely necessary to create a Gantt chart, it is recommended that you at least have a daily plan in place. Flexibility is necessary during the actual event since a kaizen event is dynamic in nature.
  6. Secure resources. Another task for the team leader is to ensure that all facilities preparation is taken care of. This includes everything the kaizen team feels they will need to succeed as well as meeting rooms and meals that will be needed throughout the week. The last task the team leader will be responsible for is the kaizen materials. This includes any training material and handouts needed for the event. In addition, this package usually includes a letter to all team members explaining the objective of the event, introducing the team and set of expectations.
  7. Prepare the kaizen team charter. The charter is a single page that documents the problem statement, goals, team members, roles, event date(s), resource, and any other important, but brief notes.

Kaizen Event Week 2

  1. Pre-event communication. The second week of the kaizen timeline is mostly focused on communication as the purpose of the event is communicated across all levels of the organization.
  2. Prepare kickoff meeting. The next part is the preparation for the kickoff meeting. This includes items like booking meeting rooms when needed while making sure that all stakeholders are invited to the meeting.
  3. Final check with Coach. Finally, the team leader needs to check with the kaizen coach to ensure that everything is accounted for and nothing has been missed. By this time the team is now ready to start the actual kaizen event.

As you can see, much preparation is needed before the actual kaizen event occurs. It’s important to note now, that adequately executing these items is often deceptively simple when seen on a spreadsheet, but the reality is that they can be quite challenging to properly follow through in real life, for those inexperienced with kaizen. That is just one more reason why having an experienced kaizen coach on your team can be invaluable.

With this in mind, while two weeks should be enough lead time, it’s acceptable to allocate additional time for the preparation phase. Three or four weeks may be perfectly reasonable to allot more time to preparation, particularly if your company is new to kaizen events.

The key to successful kaizen events is adequate planning while also staying flexible and willing to adjust your plan, at a moment’s notice, once the event commences. Certain unexpected or last-minute scenarios may arise and it’s just best to be ready for them. Keep in mind that setting enough time for preparation and forming the right team will help make sure that your kaizen event will meet your organization’s objective and garner good results.