The word Kaizen is used in the business world to depict a team working on a quick continuous improvement project. The word is actually Japanese for “incremental improvement”. Kaizen events are often conducted as part of the lean manufacturing process. There are various ways in which they are carried out, however, they normally start with a mission or objective. For example, in a grocery store to reduce checkout line queue from 6 to 3 minutes. Another example would be to increase revenue for hardware items from 6% to 8%.
Kaizen events are not long drawn out projects. They often carry the term “kaizen blitz” because the improvement effort is condensed into a short period of time. In the example above, the grocery store might have 4-6 people spend 100% of their time for 5 days solving the queue problem, and by the fifth day, the expectation is to have the objective of 3 days met. Some businesses do kaizen events as a standalone initiative. In other words, there is no formal lean manufacturing or six sigma program, but the kaizens are conducted as an overall improvement tool.
Almost all lean manufacturing initiatives include kaizen events. They are a natural fit to the way lean manufacturing is implemented, in a fairly quick manner following a model called “PDCA” (Plan-Do-Check-Act). After lean manufacturing is implemented throughout the business, kaizen events continue to drive waste out of the system and value into it.
There are also non-traditional ways to utilize a kaizen event. For example, six sigma is a more methodical approach to continuous improvement, often utilizing advanced statistical concepts and design of experiments. However, during a six sigma project, there could be a very good reason to utilize a kaizen event. As one small example, suppose a bank is trying to increase their drive-up traffic volume and percentage of total volume. Six Sigma would analyse all of the current methods and results, such as various marketing methods and resulting numbers. They would determine the direct mail and email marketing efforts with various demographics and distances. The six sigma team might determine the location is preventing drive-by drop-ins.
A kaizen event could be utilized to quickly drive improvement from the location disadvantage. The team might brainstorm ideas such as lighting and signage improvements. They might post a sign for “free checking” or “Free $50 for New Accounts”. During the five day kaizen, all kinds of various changes might be tried until one is found. On the fifth day, the kaizen team reports back to the six sigma black belts, and they take it from there.
Kaizen events can help to find links that have worked their way in or improvements that can be made based on new technologies and other elements that can drastically impact a business in the long run. They are only one tiny part of Six Sigma projects, but they are what keep the success going time and time again, making them a very important part of the entire process.