Kaizen is Key as Manufacturers Strive for Continuous Improvement.

Toyota is one of those companies that has successfully managed to focus on improvement despite having a huge number of employees. Kaizen is key as manufacturers strive for continuous improvement.

What is a Kaizen Event?
Kaizen events are accelerated applications of kaizen techniques in a focused area. Kaizen events are sometimes also referred to as rapid improvement events or kaizen blitzes. Kaizen events are driven by cross-functional teams focused narrowly on a well-defined specific problem. As such, kaizen events make it far easier to develop and deploy improvements at minimal cost to companies. Kaizen events can be used to improve nearly any process that can be observed, measured, and modified, whether that’s a factory floor, an office environment, or a hospital emergency room.

Kaizen events emphasize speed and decisive action. Thus, the typical kaizen event is only about 4 to 5 days in duration or less.

Because kaizen blitz teams are cross-functional and focused on rapidly solving problems or implementing solutions, kaizen events also develop critical thinking and team problem-solving skills. In fact, some argue that this effect is actually the most powerful benefit of a well-executed kaizen event.

While kaizen events are a truly indispensable improvement tool, it’s also vital to recognize that kaizen events, on their own, will almost certainly not revolutionize your organization. This type of transformation takes time and requires an overall strategy for long term process improvement as well as committed staff and teams to prepare, facilitate, and follow through on various kaizen initiatives. Organizations must have a system of continuous education and training for workers and managers focused on lean thinking principles. That said, kaizen is one of the key lean concepts, and when habitually practiced, over time results in sustainable seismic change for the better.

Types of Kaizen Initiatives
It’s important to understand that kaizen initiatives are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. There are different types of kaizen initiatives.

Types of Kaizen Initiatives

Figure 1. Types of Kaizen Initiatives

Project Based Initiatives
Improvements can be made through project-based initiatives. This can involve new technology, materials, and methodology. These are good improvements that provide a steady stream of progress over time.

Kaizen Suggestion Systems.
These improvements often occur on a daily basis. These improvements may be small individually, but they definitely add up in the end.

Kaizen Blitz (Kaizen Event)
Also called the kaizen event lead to step-change improvements. Kaizen events are best used in conjunction with value stream mapping exercises.

Ultimately, kaizen takes many forms all of which are integral to long-term success at world-class companies. Thus, when practiced in harmony with each other, the results are powerful

Kaizen Scope
Every kaizen event can fundamentally have one of two generic scopes; system or point. The entire future state value stream map and all the noted improvement opportunities represent system kaizen. However, if you look a little deeper, there are several, more specific improvement activities that also must also occur. These very specific improvement activities represent point kaizen. While system kaizen might focus on an entire value stream, point kaizen might only focus on specific work areas within that stream. There will always be multiple point kaizen events within one larger system kaizen initiative.

Both system kaizens and point kaizens are indispensable. Each complements the other. For kaizen to be a success, neither can be ignored. Thus, we must always recognize the big picture and have a good understanding of it and know why we are working on it. This is the purpose of the system kaizen. On the other hand, we also must work to break down these big problems into manageable smaller problems which is the purpose of point kaizen. Again, they both serve an important role in the improvement process.

5-Day Kaizen Event Process
Before any Kaizen event can commence, there is always some amount of prep-work that needs to be completed before the actual kaizen event occurs. That said, once the prep-work is done, a typical 5-day kaizen event would adhere to the following schedule.

  • Day 1: Day of Learning
    During day 1, the goal is to ensure all participants are trained on kaizen and other relevant lean tools and understand the specifics of the problem to be solved. On day 1 associates complete kaizen training, visit the work area (Gemba), map the target process, and review any available process data. Associates may also conduct a 5S audit of the work area and document the pre-improvement state with pictures. Obviously, the specifics of the activities performed will vary depending on the nature of the work area and problems you are looking to solve.
  • Day 2: Go to Gemba

    During day 2 associates observe the process by going to the actual place the work is done (Gemba) and using the best kaizen tool we have which is our eyes. This is a good time to observe and witness the process in action. This is also where you may use spaghetti diagrams, conduct time studies, and record video. Video footage is ideal for capturing everything that’s happening and something that you and your team can later refer to in order to fully understand what is actually happening in the process.

    5-Day Kaizen Event Process

    Figure 2: Brainstorm what kaizen improvements you want and document them.

    As the process is reviewed associates being brainstorming improvement ideas to be implemented. These ideas are documented using a simple tool called a kaizen newspaper designed to easily and effectively communicate the steps and status of improvement plans. For each problem, the kaizen newspaper lists the root cause, the solution, the responsible party to implement the improvement, the due date, and the current solution status. The newspaper is typically very large and displayed near the work area so that it has high visibility. The result is that everyone is on the same page and accountable for their actions.

    Kaizen NewspaperFigure 3. Kaizen Newspaper

  • Day 3: Just Do It
    This is the day where your team begins implementing changes to the process. Your team may also simulate the revised process and begin drafting documentation of the new process. Day 3 is also the day where physical changes to the work area begin being implemented.
  • Day 4: Test & Refine
    During day 4 is when associates put the new process into action to verify that things are indeed much better. That said, there’s a good possibility that a few more modifications will need to be made to the process along the way as more people become involved. Most importantly, by the end of day 4 the goal is to ensure that the process is 100% functional and ready to be completely handed over to the process owner.
  • Day 5: Communicate & Celebrate

    On day 5, the kaizen team documents the new current state and quantifies the operational and financial benefits of the kaizen event. Finally, we communicate all the results of the event with all the associates while creating a plan for fully implementing action steps that weren’t completed during the actual event.

    OEE ChartFigure 4. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) Chart.

    On day 5 is also when we implement tracking tools such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) charts, updated cross-training plans, and process auditing schedules to ensure the new process is properly implemented and sustained.

    The kaizen event concludes with the team presenting their results to management and colleagues over some snacks and food to celebrate their accomplishments.

Kaizen Event Pointers
To ensure kaizen success, remember the following as you embark on your kaizen journey:

  • Ultimately kaizen is change, but people are naturally apprehensive about change. As such, always be mindful of team member’s natural anxiety and tirelessly work to alleviate their concerns, ensuring that people never worry about losing their jobs because of productivity improvements.
  • It’s important to plan ahead and be prepared to communicate how you aim to redeploy any personnel hours freed-up as a result of kaizen.
  • Be sure to communicate improvements upfront.
  • Understand the investment that a kaizen event requires in terms of supplies, hours, and production time.
  • Develop a plan to recover investment costs by saving on things like overtime pay, hiring avoidance and redeploying freed up people to other areas that may need help.