Applying the 80-20 Rule to Kaizen

By Jon Miller Published on October 3rd, 2006

I’m fond of the 80-20 principle. Any time an understanding of statistics, laws of physics or human biology can make day to day decision making easier, it’s a welcome thing. The same is true in applying the 80-20 rule to kaizen.
For what it’s worth, and in a completely unscientific manner, I’ve found these things to be true:
20% theory, 80% gemba
Limit the time spent in the class room. Avoid overuse of PowerPoint. Keep training interactive and hands on. Make your base of operations on the shop floor (gemba) and spend most of your time there. Find the wastes, listen to the people who do the job, and make physical changes.
20% thinking, 80% doing
If you’re spending more time thinking than doing during a kaizen event or the “do” phase of a kaizen project of longer than a week, you probably haven’t scoped the kaizen project properly or done your homework in the appropriate Toyota Production System tools or kaizen methodologies. More time spent on theory or more time on the gemba collecting the facts may help.
20% kaizen week, 80% preparation & follow-up
If you think the kaizen week itself is where most of the work is, think again. Preparation and follow-up are the make-or-break factors for kaizen activity. Proper logisitics planning, making arrangements, defining a scope and objectives, collecting the data and making sure the team is free of interruptions are all key. And of course even though you might get 80% of the new condition implemented during the week, the remaining 20% of the kaizen ideas need to be complete before you star the next project.
20% of the remaining action items will take 80% of the completion lead-time
This is a very useful thing to remember when planning resources and completion dates, creating project timelines etc. to clean up remaining action items and bring the new condition after kaizen to a high level of completion. Once you recognize this you’ll be able to load up on more resources to get the critical path items done and out of the way sooner, speeding up the total implementation.
20% celebration, 80% reflection
In order to do kaizen right you have to celebrate your victories over waste. You need to make it fun. Beware not to let this get out of hand, or start doing kaizen presentations and celebrations for the sake of the free pizza. Take time at the end of every kaizen to ask “what worked and why?” and also “what can we do better?” If you’re not too giddy from the celebration, try to convince others that now things are actually worse than ever.
Also keep in mind that 20% of the team members / managers will require 80% of your attention during kaizen or any time of major continuous improvement initiative. I could go on but it’s late where I am.

  1. Preston

    October 3, 2006 - 5:23 pm

    Very recently I saw a reference to the 99/1 rule relative to Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints. I didn’t read the article/blog but expect it said that 99% of the immediately available results can be achieved by focusing on the 1% of problems that represent the constraint.

  2. M.k.Rammohun

    October 18, 2009 - 10:31 am


  3. Wesley Bushby

    December 8, 2009 - 7:47 pm

    Jon, good reflection on your findings. I would agree with all of it.

  4. simon maina nyairo

    January 28, 2010 - 2:07 am


  5. syed ishrat athar

    May 16, 2010 - 8:36 am

    I agree with your valuable finding / reflection..

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