How to survive a kaizen event

Mike Thelen, Hub City Inc., a subsidiary of Regal-Beloit
Tags: kaizen, lean manufacturing

A kaizen event is a focused effort to “make a leap.” A cross-functional team is created. For a three- to five-day period, team members focus on improving a process. A kaizen event differs from regular, continuous kaizen improvement.

It is characterized by the following:

  • A short burst of intense activity and effort (three to five days only)

  • Biased toward action over analysis to achieve improvements in a short time

  • Focused on defining activities, improving supplier/customer connections and achieving flow

  • Driven to resolving a specific problem or achieving a specific goal

  • Committed to a specific area or process (either plant or office)

  • Guided with daily reviews of progress

  • Managed to resolution

A kaizen is guided by two imperatives:    
- Continuous improvement
- Waste elimination

During a kaizen event, the team will:

  • Identify opportunities and areas of waste

  • Ask “Why?, Why?, Why?, Why?, Why?”

  • Determine ways to fix the problem or eliminate the waste

  • Implement solutions

If you have been given the task of leading a kaizen event, here are 48 steps to take you from start to finish.

  1. Have gifts for team members bundled with the name tag attached ready to hand out.

  2. Make the opening a welcome to remember.

  3. Have event documentation team ready to capture action.

  4. Take pictures of team members and post them in the main gathering area with their names.

  5. Have the names of event support staff and pictures displayed with contact information.

  6. Have a contact number (outside of the event staff) so that teams can be contacted; leave a roster with the switchboard of names of people in the event.

  7. Make the comfort stations workable for the team rooms – coffee, water, soda, snacks.

  8. Keep supply request lists available – regular supply runs.

  9. Have members bring their favorite pencil, clipboard, stopwatch.

  10. Have a video camera, tapes and a digital camera available for each team, with instructions for running each clearly identified.

  11. Assign a host non-team member for each group: questions, regular check-ins, what-ifs.

  12. Leave one evening open – 12-hour days with the same people are long enough.

  13. Provide transportation options, company or cab service.

  14. Start the event when all of the staff is in house; allow for some lag time with planes and trains and automobiles.

  15. Wireless Internet and printer access in work areas is a great help.

  16. Local color – see it through the eyes of your guests (shuttle service if necessary).

  17. Have the forms printed out, bundled by day and the report-out books indexed with tabs ready.

  18. Set the shell of the file that you want each team to use at the ready (electronic/network file system).

  19. Add the “rules in use” to the top of observation forms.

  20. Make a point of names and dates on each and every form.

  21. Make rulers, tape measures, tape, post-its, easel boards a part of report-out stock kits.

  22. Post in the host facility a notice explaining the event.

  23. Keep the facility employees in the loop.

  24. Send out the forms in an e-mail ahead of time – visual identification tools and study guide

  25. Post locations of first-aid kits, aspirin, tweezers, Band-Aids, etc., or stock them in the work rooms.

  26. Lunch with non-event members adds local flavor and communicates the event.

  27. Non-event members could be observers, half-day or more; this provides lean exposure.

  28. Keep teams on time – report-outs are scheduled, start when they are scheduled, do not allow stragglers .

  29. Make plug-in coolers available; check with local vending companies, stock may be maintained by them.

  30. Is language a communication challenge? Learn a welcoming phrase prior to the event and perhaps some background about the other locations.

  31. Provide team rosters, including location and title, to all participants.

  32. Binder supplies to contain all of the work papers that are completed.

  33. Schedule extra trash cans and janitorial services more frequently.

  34. Remind teams to practice 5-S in their work rooms – lead by example.

  35. Teams need to ask for resources not visible.

  36. Meeting host employees with the same job function outside of lean might lead to improved communication across the company.

  37. Arrange downtime at least once a day to check in with home facility. You may use phone cards or e-mail stations to accomplish such communication.

  38. Post progress for host employees to visit (pictures before and after).

  39. Clear the host facility team members’ responsibilities for the week; they are unavailable for the routine day events.

  40. Build your report-out books every day. Have the tabs with labels, index and clear sheets ready to fill at the end of each day. Make it part of the daily report-out.

  41. If using a network for computer storage, publish locations and identify what each team needs to add daily.

  42. Set a group to copy the team books, use good 5-S, and make the instructions clear and binary. Allow three to four hours to complete the copies for books (we made seven).

  43. Team members contribute to final presentation; document instructions and give examples of information that is necessary.

  44. Have twice as many clear sleeves on hand as you think you need (we went through more than 1,200).

  45. Try to balance experience levels (both technical and organizational) across teams

  46. Use one sensei (consultant) for each changeover team; having their support and leadership will aid in direction and flow.

  47. Only one of our three teams completed standardized work; assign responsibility for tracking the vital elements.

  48. People with prior exposure to Kaizen forms need to step forward and lead in documentation completion.

About the author:
Mike Thelen is the lean facilitator at Aberdeen, S.D.-based Hub City Inc., a subsidiary of the Regal-Beloit Corporation. He has led lean initiatives in positions from front-line supervisor to system coordinator at various corporations since 2001. He can be reached at

About the Author