Ever been a part of a Kaizen event, or what is commonly referred to as the Kaizen Blitz? No? Well then you are missing out on one of the most effective, engaging, and self-fulfilling continuous improvement events you will ever attend. The Kaizen event brings together a group of people from different departments and rapidly improves how a department or work cell performs. Being a member of a Kaizen team can improve your morale, influence your attitude, and help motivate you to want to perform at a much higher level.
The history of Kaizen can be traced back to Japan shortly after World War II. Meaning “change for the better”, or more literally, “continuous improvement”, Kaizen is used most commonly now in business and management as a tool to help reduce costs and eliminate waste. It is based on the philosophy and principles of the Stewart or Deming cycles called “plan-do-check-act”. This process, when adapted and used correctly, can increase efficiencies and improve profits.
Most events allow three to eight members per team and can take place anywhere from a few hours to an entire week to accomplish. The more common events take place over two to three days and focus on one work area or work cell to implement new methods and processes designed to increase throughput, reduce quality problems, or remove excessive costs.
A typical Kaizen event schedule will include approximately two to three weeks of preparation by the Kaizen leader or facilitator as they are sometimes referred to, two to three days for the event, then three to four weeks of follow-up. Most of the “work” that is performed during a Kaizen event takes place over the two to three day period in which the entire team meets to focus on completing the event goals.
Day one of the Kaizen event usually starts with a morning meeting. Ground rules are communicated that includes treating everyone with respect, business titles are removed, and everyone works for a common goal. A presentation is given to ensure everyone knows why they are, and how a Kaizen event is performed. After the presentation, there is usually a brainstorming process to help identify items of concern or problems that have existed but ignored in the past. Once all the problems have been identified, the team then decides what improvements to focus on during the scheduled days the event is to take place.
The Kaizen team spends the majority of their time focusing on improving problems that affect performance, inventory, quality, safety, and cost through innovation and creative means. Some of the tools used in a Kaizen event include Pareto charts, control charts, and histograms commonly used in quality control.
Another part of the Kaizen event is the 5S system. 5S is another tool used in Kaizen events to ensure everything is placed exactly where it should be using specific organizing methods. The 5S methodology is based on five elements: 1) Sorting; 2) Setting in order; 3) shining; 4) standardizing; and 5) sustaining. Implementing 5S standards helps to reduce injuries, downtime, mistakes, costs, and inventory.
The final day of a Kaizen event typically includes running the new processes that were designed to ensure they work, installing metrics to ensure the new processes are maintained, and performing a final presentation to management. In the spirit of Kaizen, the final presentation should be developed and led by the members of the team.
Follow-up usually consists of meetings with team members to ensure any action items left over from the event are being completed. Once all of the action items have been completed, the event can be closed out and the improvements and cost savings can be recorded. A good system-wide Kaizen program will take place on a rolling schedule where numerous Kaizen events will take place over the course of a year. Some companies have Kaizen or Lean focus teams where many events happen simultaneously. Other smaller organizations may only complete a few Kaizen events per year. Either way, becoming involved in continuous improvements such as Kaizen can go a long way toward achieving operational excellence in any organization.