Roundtable 6 – Are kaizen events ‘good’?

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[tweetmeme source=”leanisgood” service=”” only_single=false]The ‘posters’ of the Lean Is Good blog have grown to four in number. Each of us brings a different background and set of experiences around Deming, lean, and learning. How could we leverage this diversity of thought and voice for the benefit of our readers? We ‘planned’ and came up with an idea that we could each briefly answer a question once a week.  We will post a poll so that readers can interact when it is reasonable for the question asked. The order that the answers appear in will be randomized each time. Please join us by adding your comments. We would like to hear from you.

The question:

Are kaizen ‘events’ good? Do they fit in a healthy implementation? When? For what?

The answers:

Bryan (posts)

Just like any tool, I believe kaizen events have their place and are very effective, especially in the first couple of years in a transformation. They are a great way to teach deep and narrow a philosophy such as pull, flow, or even 5S to a smaller group of people. Besides teaching and implementing a philosophy, each event needs to have the objective of developing more event leaders. This increases the organizations capacity for having successful events, which in turn increases the knowledge and understanding of the enterprise.

A couple of pitfalls of the kaizen event is when everyone expects the CI guy to lead it every time and when items that could be daily kaizen’d are put on hold until we can get an event done!

I think kaizen events are also great at breaking down traditional barriers. When a team of operators and maintenance comes together on a TPM event and each learns from the other its amazing the teamwork that expands beyond the event!

A kaizen event also does great for morale. People see real change in a very short time and can take pride that they have changed their job for the better.

In more mature enterprises, I believe the importance of an event diminishes as more daily kaizens take place. But I still believe there is a place for them, just much less frequent!

Bruce (posts)

I’m going down the middle on this one.  The danger is trying to drive your implementation with them.  I know of one company who was sold on the ‘n/10’ approach.  Divide the number of people you have in a facility and divide by 10.  That number is the number of kaizen ‘events’ that you should do per this theory.  Consider that about 5 to 6 floor employees particiapate in each event.  If that is kaizen events are your principal method of engagement then you will engage everyone 4.5 days every other year.

I think it is better to use ‘events’ to get a bunch of work done and you have a a lot of low hanging fruit.  A couple weeks ago I was in one and we turned people loose on ‘making your jobs easier.’  They ripped it up.  Huge amounts of visuality was created in a couple days and it was good stuff because they were ‘making stuff easy and obvious’ not ‘applying visual factory.’  They people ended up taking stuff off of the shadow boards and finding better places for stuff.  Moved a piece of equipment that was a game changer.

My opinion is that kaizen ‘events’ can be good things if they are fairly simple, they do things that matter to people, and it isn’t the only way you are engaging people.

Kim (posts)

I have mixed feelings on kaizen blitz type events. If done well they are great. I really think they are overused. The tendency is to bite off too much or to allow the focus to change during the event. The support teams must be ready and well equipped. The worst thing that can happen is to start an event and not be able to support it. Often there is really no need for an event it can be handled with the people on the floor just doing it, no BS getting the way. Some climates mandate a certain number of events even if there is no meaning to them. I prefer what may be the more traditional Japanese kaizen approach of long slow continuous improvement. But that does not fit the American way does it.

“And in a moment it was over, and we were left with what we might have

been and what we had become.”

Hearts and Dreams on the Line John Stewart

Those are our answers.  We would really like to here from you in the comments below.

Last week we asked our readers how successful they have been teaching lean ‘up’ to leadership in their organizations.  This is what they said:


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5 Responses

  1. In Japan Kaizen in not an “event” persay but small incremental continuous improvement activities on a daily basis. Generally, it is a very informal process because it is so routine. The only time they have a formal “event” is to educate management on improvement. I think many organizations fail to do the first well and therefore rely on the latter.

    • Tim,
      I agree that kaizen is not by definition an event and that it represents incremental improvements. Many organizations, it seems, have adopted ‘events’ as at least one method of improving. The question was intended to question if these week long event are in general a good idea or if they might be under some circumstances. Can they be a part of a healthy improvement strategy?
      I understand the logic of Toyota does something therfore it is probably pretty good. I question the logic of saying Toyota (or Japanese companies in general) don’t do something therefore it must be bad.

  2. Great question Bruce. First, I agree with Tim that kaizen does not mean events. In order to try to teach some improvement techniques the kaizen event was developed.

    Back to your question, I believe kaizen events themselves are amoral, neither good or bad. It is only how we use it that becomes good or bad. Just like a stick. A stick is amoral on the ground however we could either pick it up to hit someone (bad) or use the stick as kindling for fire (good).

    I have met company leaders who think kaizen events are a sign of immaturity on the lean journey. That it is a good tool at the start of a lean journey but should be put away as we grow up.

    I think each company should decide for themselves on the use of kaizen events. They are a great tool for teaching and getting results in many cases but not good applied to tough quality issues or larger scope issues. It all comes down to how we use it.

    • Mike,
      I think find your comment that kaizen events might be a sign of immaturity kind of intriguing. That is how I would summarize my thoughts at this point. As things progress it is important for the organization to find a way to get improvement done more “organically” or I would worry that the implementation could be stunted. I have found that they are a good way to build initial engagement though – people can see their ideas take physical manifestation right now.I also agree that highly complex quality issues and large scopes are very difficult to address in an ‘event.’

  3. Okay, so Kaizen events are amoral. So is a QWERTY keyboard on a typewriter. But once you get used to that keyboard, it’s virtually impossible to switch to a more efficient configuration. Habits are hard to change. So are first impressions. I’ve been in an organization that used Kaizen events which quickly became a habit and a mental model. People assumed that’s what Kaizen and Lean was all about. It gave some managers a convenient way to evaluate their subordinate supervisors’ “commitment” to Lean; just count the events they held. Other managers got intensely annoyed at the events because of the perceived drain in resources and the resultant short–term loss in productivity. Because to them, this was Lean, this translated into a distaste for Lean itself. It took a lot of (re)work to rewire their feelings.

    If you are able to do something right, do it right from the beginning. Otherwise the resultant rework is a time waster.

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