8 Reasons to Love Kaizen Events

Wooden frame of a barn being built amidst pine trees in the Colorado forest.

Some people disparage the 5-day kaizen event as a driver for continuous improvement. When the kaizen even it the only way of putting creative ideas and lean systems into practice this can be a sign of fake lean. Roadmaps, tools and methods should be studied, benchmarked and thoroughly tried to fit the situation of each organization. The kaizen event remains popular because it is effective not only in delivering rapid business results but in fostering positive changes among people. Here are 8 reasons to love kaizen events.

1. Learn from an experienced instructor. Leading kaizen events remains a skill practiced by few, and the truly experienced and skilled instructors number only in the hundreds worldwide. It’s a pleasure to be part of a well-planned, well-facilitated rapid improvement event. In addition to lean principles and practical examples of how to do problem solving, kaizen event instructors can offer valuable lessons about leadership during a kaizen week.

2. Kaizen events are always different. To say no two kaizen events are the same is cliché. The team members and team dynamics, the target area and the problems in the area, the laughs and the awkward moments are unique to each kaizen event.

3. Receive attention within a limited group size. Every person on a kaizen team is there for a reason: to think and lend a hand in problem solving. The typical kaizen event team size of 5 – 8 people per theme or area makes it possible for everyone to contribute and feel productively engaged.

4. Gain help in implementing your ideas. Many people come to a kaizen event with no idea of what to expect. Some come to a kaizen event with firm ideas on the problem and the solution. Others are somewhere in between. This is all part of the plan. Those new to the area may have a lot to learn before they can offer suggestions, or they may ask an innocent question which leads to a breakthrough. People who understand the problem thoroughly may finally get the attention and help in trying their ideas.

5. Put lean concepts into real life application. The kaizen event is designed as a focused rapid improvement activity to enable the testing and application of a lean concept or lean system within one week. There is a preparation period as a run up to the kaizen event, but to see a lean theory work in real life application from concept to launch within 5 days is a glorious thing. It’s like an Amish barn raising in some ways, with power tools and less food.

6. Bond with co-workers. The kaizen event is a great team building activity. The shared purpose, goofy team names, challenges overcome through cooperation and persistence all help create a new sense of connection with team members and co-workers.

7. Tell the kids (or spouse) what you did at work today. How often are we able to go home and talk to our family or friends about some truly remarkable things we did at work? Even if doing remarkable things is daily work, such as fighting fires or saving lives, kaizen events offer something different. Whatever work you do, observing the process to identify waste and redesign it, with all of the daily ups and downs this adds new material to liven up the dining table discussion.

8. Rest well on Friday night. The kaizen event can be a long week or long days. The time flies and the rest earned at the end of the week is well deserved. May you not have to enjoy it this rest in the seat of an economy class flight.

A common but misguided question between lean professionals is “How many kaizen events..?” have you led, participated in, or sponsored. As with any craft there is a mastery that comes with practice and repetition. However the question that needs to be asked is “Why do you love kaizen events?” This question presupposes that one does not hate kaizen events, which some do. This is not a defense of kaizen events, which are neither good nor bad. It is what we make them. Feeding the wolf of hate doesn’t help us lead kaizen events more effectively.

4 Comments

  1. ericmo

    September 1, 2010 - 9:22 pm

    I’ve been with Toyota for so long and I’m confused with the term “kaizen events” used by Lean practitioners outside of toyota. How is it different with our “Jishuken” and “QC circles”? Seems to me this closely resemble – jishuken since the activity is done in a week or two. And there is another term used around – ” Show and Tell”, is this different from QC circle?

  2. Jon Miller

    September 1, 2010 - 10:25 pm

    Hi Eric
    Kaizen events are not referred to by that name, just as they don’t talk about 5S, Lean or Six Sigma. However in practice it is very similar to a jishuken.
    They are very different from QC Circle activities. The kaizen event came from the Shingijutsu consultants. They came from the Toyota Autonomous Study Group, which was a band of people from Toyota suppliers studying with Taiichi Ohno in the 1980s primarily through jishuken activity. They would go as a team to each other’s factories for a week of kaizen under Ohno’s coaching. When it came time for them to become consultants and work internationally, it probably made sense for them to insist on no less than a full 5 days of billable time so that they could maximize income over the week and minimize travel.
    I have not heard of the “Show and Tell” but it sounds like a QC Circle presentation.

  3. Joseph

    September 5, 2010 - 2:43 pm

    Jon.
    The love of Kaizen Events is a thing that is enjoyed by Coaches because they can use their skills to facilitate or guide a team to greater things. The output of a team will always be better than the best individual.
    On the other hand Teachers may find that the flow of free ideas is not to their liking. They have no problem taking the money but prefer preaching the Gospel according to themselves.
    Leading a well run Kaizen Event is like conducting a symphony orchestra. The more that you put into the Event the more that you will get out of it. It is a true WIN – WIN situation.
    The team feel good because because they have achieved improvements that will benefit the company and their colleagues.
    The company (Bosses) will feel good because it is easier to lead in a plant were every one is pulling in the same direction.
    The Leader will feel good because they know that the output of the Event was only as good as they were in delivering it. They should also have gained more skills to add to their next Event. Onwards and Upwards.
    Toyota would not need a 5 day Event on the product or process as they would run out of things to improve after the first 2 hours. People are our greatest asset and Respect.
    Erocmo. The only show and tell Events that I know of is when the Design People take there new products ideas into plant to get the input of the people who will build it before the final Design is set in stone. Toyota probably do it under a different name.
    Live long and prosper.
    Ps. I was told by an Ex. Toyota Consultant about a concept he called ” Kakuri ” I think that is how it would be spelt but I can not find it in a Japanese Dictionary. The word means, ” A job that once an operator has started it HE must also complete it. Is this word the correct one ?” I think ” Karuri ” is the last refuge of scoundrels as jobs should be broken down to suit effecient allocations. Can some one help with this.

  4. Joseph

    September 5, 2010 - 2:47 pm

    Jon.
    I have not heard from RONAK any idea how his Kaizen Event went. He should have started mid-August ?