Many organizations are reluctant to utilize kaizen events because such events take a team of employees away from their "real jobs" for three to five 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 article on the subject, you will learn when kaizen events should be used for maximum impact.

Recall that kaizen events are focused three- to five-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. What follows 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 change over equipment using the SMED system, developed by Shigeo Shingo.
  • Organizing the workplace using 5-S.
  • Creating a one-piece-flow work cell.
  • 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 percent when it would need to be much closer to 100 percent 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 types 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.

About the author:

Darren Dolcemascolo is an internationally recognized lecturer, author and consultant. As senior partner and co-founder of EMS Consulting Group, he specializes in productivity and quality improvement through lean manufacturing. Dolcemascolo has written the book Improving the Extended Value Stream: Lean for the Entire Supply Chain, published by Productivity Press in 2006. To learn more and to sign up for the free Learning to Lean e-newsletter, visit www.emsstrategies.com.