The Complete Guide to Kaizen

Business leaders often covet lean methodology as the best way to run a business. It is extremely effective at removing waste, creating process flow, and ultimately increasing profits in an organization. A  central tool of the lean methodology is kaizen.

As a Japanese word, kaizen means good change. However, as an ideology associated with lean principles, kaizen means continuous improvement. Some people devote themselves to kaizen, even applying the mindset of continuous improvement in their relationships, fitness, and everyday life. In this article, we break down what kaizen is and how to introduce it to your organization.

Kaizen tree graph

What is Kaizen and what is a kaizen event?

Kaizen is a method of optimizing every part of an organization in order to generate value for the customer. The goal is to continuously improve a system through kaizen events that lower defects, eliminate waste, and improve productivity.

Kaizen events are cross-functional events held over a short time period that focus on a specific problem in the value stream. During value stream mapping (another tool of lean methodology), you identify kaizen opportunities. We recommend that you map value streams one or two times a year. You can learn how to run a VSM here.

Kaizen events are structured around unwanted waste in a value stream. Lean methodology defines waste as any non-value-adding activity. The customer deems what is value-adding in the value stream.

There are eight possible wastes:

  • Excess Inventory: Excess inventory requires more floor space and makes inventory management and tracking more difficult. The solution is the use of Kanban Boards, Super Markets, or just-in-time production.
  • Unnecessary Motion: Unnecessary motion is any movement of people that doesn’t contribute to value-adding work. Poor plant layouts lead to suboptimal movement, for example.
  • Waiting: Waiting accounts for idle equipment and workers. They can be waiting for data, waiting on bottlenecks in equipment, or maintenance.
  • Overproduction: Overproduction leads to excess inventory and the associated problems. Better planning and just-in-time production are some possible solutions.
  • Over-processing: Over-processing wastes are production and communication efforts that don’t add value to the customer.
  • Defects: Defects can be caused by excessive variation, inadequate equipment, poor training, or transport damage.
  • Unnecessary Transport: Unnecessary transportation of people, tools, materials, or equipment can be avoided by optimizing process flow improvements and plant layouts. You can read more about optimizing your plant layout with lean methodology here.
  • Unutilized Talent: This waste refers to underutilizing employees’ talents and skill sets in a process. As we like to say, “Let’s keep the welders welding.”

What are the types of kaizen events?

Kaizen can be separated into two categories:

  • Flow kaizen focuses on improving the whole value stream. These types of Kaizens address a broader scope of the business
  • Process kaizen is established in a value stream map and focuses on subprocesses, tasks, and specific problems.

There are also five different types of kaizen events:

  • Do-it events are the quickest, as they focus on small problems that you can quickly address.
  • Kaizen burst events focus on a simple task that will deliver a large impact.
  • Typical events take 3-5 days and focus on process improvements.
  • Project events focus on long-term projects that impact an entire value stream.
  • 5S events focus on workplace organization by sorting, setting in order, shining, standardizing, and sustaining processes.

In the table below, you can view the types of kaizen events in more detail:

five types of kaizen table

What are the benefits of kaizen and kaizen events?

There are five main benefits to hosting kaizen events:

  1. Increased Productivity: Kaizen’s main goal is to increase to create flow by removing non-value-added work. When waste is removed from the processes, productivity will improve.
  2. Collaboration: A typical Kaizen event usually takes place over 3-5 days and requires collaborative settings. They join departments and people who may not otherwise work together. This cross-functional collaboration strengthens communication and culture in an organization.
  3. Leadership Development: Kaizen events require team settings and creative thinking. They are challenging and help make everyone better at their roles in a company. Employees also get an opportunity to exercise their leadership skills in teams.
  4. Training: Another output of kaizen events is the hands-on learning of new processes and tools. Learning serves to strengthen employees and mix up the workday monotony.
  5. Problem Discovery: Examining one problem uncovers more opportunities for improvement. Kaizen events should be analyzed once completed to learn what went well and what didn’t, for future events.

Okay, enough talking about what Kaizen is and why it is so great. How do you execute a Kaizen event?

What are the steps to Kaizen?

The Next Step runs kaizen events based on four steps: Plan, Do, Check, Act, or PDCA. Events typically follow this process:

  1. Create a priority list of all kaizen events.
    1. A place to start prioritization is to review the biggest constraints/issues in the process. A way to figure out priorities is by doing an effort/impact analysis with your value stream map.
    2. What will offer the largest return for the least investment?
    3. Kaizen events are investments. It is important to use resources and labor effectively.
  2. Plan a kaizen event.
    1. Start with the top priority Kaizen event.
    2. Before starting the kaizen event, gain a full understanding of the problem, goal, and scope. Make sure the kaizen event is well-defined.
    3. Ask the leadership team:
      1. What is the purpose of the event?
      2. What is the target value stream or process?
  • What is the goal?
  1. Who should be on the team?
  1. The Next Step recommends using a kaizen charter. A kaizen charter is a structured way to define the problem description, essential event participants, additional team members, project scope, schedule, event goals, required resources, potential roadblocks, and day-to-day plan, all necessary to know.
  1. Do the kaizen event.
    1. Now it is time to carry out the plan.
    2. Map the current process to identify waste, process flow, bottlenecks, defects, and redundancies.
    3. Map the desired future state.
    4. Measure the process before the test.
    5. Implement the planned change.
    6. Observe the process for possible improvements.
  2. Check the results.
    1. Assess whether the changes delivered the intended results and met desired goals.
    2. Present the results with key performance indicators.
    3. Conduct follow-up meetings with people impacted to determine the success of the kaizen event and identify future improvements.
  3. Act or react.
    1. Depending on the results, move to the next kaizen event in the priority list or assess what went wrong and run another kaizen event.

As you run more kaizen events, you will learn how to run them more efficiently. The Next Step has assisted countless kaizen events for a variety of organizations. We can add value to your next kaizen event. Tap into our expertise.

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