Kaizen Process improvement Best Practices

Kaizen Process Improvement Best Practices


What is Kaizen?

In Japanese, Kaizen means “change for the better” or “good change.” Kaizen events are short and to the point (a.k.a. reduce waste and clarify the process to produce the best results it can). They are also just one part of a larger continuous improvement system. Each event starts with a clear focus on a particular process and systematically work toward incremental improvements that will make a difference to the people doing the daily work and their customers. Those improvements are usually part of a series of events that continue the work.

Why should we use Kaizen Events?

One of the great advantages of Kaizen events, besides their short duration, is the work that gets done during the event itself. It’s not the kind of thing that takes weeks or months to show its results. Participants often find ways to make improvements before the event is over. Talk about a valuable ROI!

Kaizen events are a great way to build a culture of continuous improvement, because they teach key tools and give immediate opportunities to apply them in a real-world situation. For most participants (i.e. adult learners), hands-on application is the best way to learn something new. When they can also see the results, such as in this type of event, that learning is heightened.

With Kaizen events, you get three big benefits other workshops and events have a hard time completing with:

  • Quick and easy-to-digest results
  • The best way to teach a new concept
  • Building blocks for a culture of continuous improvement

Making the most of a Kaizen Event

  1. Do your homework:Before the event, research the relevant information that already exists. This preparation will limit the amount of research done during the event and help identify other information that may be needed for the event. All of that will increase the confidence participants feel toward the event. That confidence will improve their own work during the event and make them more likely to be ambassadors for the solutions when they’re back to their regular work.
  2. Focus on the process you’re evaluating:Resist the urge to think about the desired results during the event. This focus improves the experience and allows participants to take a deep dive into the topic. If tangents start, record them somewhere so that they can be addressed later. One way to do this is with a parking loton a flipchart or white board.
  3. Help participants clear their schedules for the event:We’ve all been there. We get invited to participate in something extra and it translates into longer hours, because we’re still expected to keep up with all the usual work during it. Maybe worse is the person who would really like to participate, but their manager doesn’t see the value and won’t let them. In both scenarios, a bit of communication about the Kaizen event can help everyone understand why the participants need to step away and focus on the event instead.
  4. Educate people ahead of time:You’ll get a lot more done if people know what a Kaizen event is and what it will focus on. Think of it as priming their minds to hit the ground running. Questions during the event are fine but answer as many as you can before the participants are expected to deliver. This will also help to even the knowledge playing field so that everyone can contribute and the team will achieve more meaningful results.
  5. Choose the team carefully: Include the obvious choices and the not-so-obvious. Think of people who are upstream or downstream from the critical point and don’t forget the people outside of the area who may be valuable on the team.
  6. Brainstorm fair:Many people dread any kind of brainstormingactivity and we can all identify some reasons why. When you get to the solution brainstorming step of your Kaizen event, ensure that everyone is free to give their ideas without judgment. Here are a few things to try:
    1. Give participants a set amount of time to write their suggestions on sticky notes before they are expected to share with the group. Then let people share by putting their ideas on a board where you’ve listed some general categories. This is a great way to keep groupthinkand power dynamics from taking over the discussion.
    1. Create some ground rules to exclude counter-productive criticism of an idea and to hold comments until the person has finished sharing the idea. Encourage discussion instead.
    1. Before the brainstorm begins, review the data and lessons learned up to that point. This will refresh everyone’s mind and keep the brainstorming focused on the task at hand.
  7. Address personality conflicts individually and beforehand:If there are some members of the team who don’t get along, it may be best to address that up front rather than letting them be surprised to see each other. This can be a difficult conversation, so don’t be afraid to get some guidance if you’re not quite sure what to say.

Key Kaizen Takeaways

There are several ways to run an effective Kaizen event and even more tools to use along the way. Remembering a few key points will bring together all of those elements to create an experience that everyone will feel was worthwhile. 

  • A little research and organization before the Kaizen event will set up everyone to succeed.
  • Clear the way and make it easy for people to participate.

We’re all human and scope creepis real. Communicate throughout the process (before, during, and after the event) to keep everyone engaged and on track.

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