- Raphael L. Vitalo, Ph.D. and Frank P. Butz
Kaizen (pronounced ki-zen) is the Japanese word for continuous improvement.
As we use the term, it is a problem solving method that strives toward perfection
by eliminating waste. Kaizen understands waste to be any activity that is not
value adding from the perspective of the customer. Work is value adding when
it is done right the first time and materially changes a product or service
in ways for which a well-informed and reasonable customer is willing to pay.
Our process for Kaizen empowers people with tools and a methodology that enable
them to focus their improvement efforts, evaluate a work process to uncover
improvement opportunities, generate and test improvement ideas, select the best
ideas, and make and measure change. We use an initial Kaizen event to make immediate
improvements in business results, demonstrate the power of Kaizen, and prepare
employees to carry forward Kaizen as a regular part of their work activities.
How We Accelerate Kaizen
We break the cycle time for a Kaizen event into two components: preparation
and execution. "How can we speed the process?" There two ways to accelerate
Kaizen, shorten the period from request to the beginning of the event and shorten
the time needed to complete the event itself.
When doing Kaizen events outside your own workplace, your preparations for
the event require working through others and learning from them. Your key responsibilities
are to define the scope of the event, assess whether it makes sense, engage
the support of key stakeholders, prepare your team, and arrange logistics (Exhibit
1. Preparation Tasks for Leading a Kaizen Event
- Define the scope of the event,
- Assess whether the event makes business sense.
- Involve key stakeholders.
- Prepare your team, and
- Arrange logistics.
Typically, a first-time Kaizen event outside your own workplace will take not
less than four weeks to conceive, plan, and arrangeyet, our experienced
Kaizen leaders may spend as little as three days of effort to complete their
work, given the processes and materials we have developed. So why does the preparation
cycle take four calendar weeks or more? Waste! The major source of waste is
wait. Search is the second source. The preparation will hang in wait states
because of missing information, uninformed people, unavailable people, hanging
decisions, uncertain commitment from leaders and managers, and schedule conflicts.
Time will be spent on searching for information that exists but whose location
is not known. You will also search to identify the "right" people
to help you arrange the event.
To reduce these sources of waste you must be proactive and diligent throughout.
Here are four keys to shortening the period from initial request for an event
to beginning the event itself.
- Get the right contacts.
- Make your contacts smart fast.
- Push to resolve preparation issues.
- Repeat what works.
Get the Right Contacts
The people critical to swiftly completing the preparations for an event are:
its sponsor, the event coordinator, the key stakeholders, and the team who will
implement the event.
The sponsor is typically the work process manager. He or she should be seeking
the event to advance a business objective by improving the performance of
his or her work process. You need to meet directly with the sponsor to understand
the background leading to requesting the event and to gather basic business
information. You also need the sponsor's expectations for the Kaizen event
and what "do's and don'ts" he or she expects the Kaizen team to
observe. It is important that get this information first hand so that you
are certain of the focus for the proposed event and the results it should
produce. This information will also allow you to begin defining the scope
of the event, which is the first milestone in preparation. The sponsor also
needs to identify who will be the event coordinator (see below) and, if that
person is not directly knowledgeable of the target work process, who will
provide you detailed information about the work process.
The event coordinator is the person with whom you coordinate logistics and
someone from whom you can learn details of the target work process and get
insight into the people who execute it. In a small operation, this might be
the sponsor, but in large businesses, this is rare.
You need to understand what you require from the event coordinator to make
sure the right person is assigned to the role. For example, our scope document
has three sections and the event coordinator must supply information for each.
The first section tells about the business within which the work process operates,
its products, key customer values, and current business drivers. The second
tells about the work process itself including its output, cycle time, staffing,
and use of machines among other details. The third section tells about the
expectations for the event and information needed to plan it (e.g., proposed
team members, key stakeholders). The coordinator must have this information
or be able to access it for you quickly.
The coordinator must also be privy to the thinking behind the request for
doing the Kaizen event so that the information he or she adds is consistent
with the sponsor's purposes. To speed preparation, the coordinator must to
be available to you and provide timely turnaround on requests for information,
ideas, and feedback. This means the person should have a schedule and workload
that allows him or her to be reached and to return calls promptly and to spend
time on the preparation tasks he or she must complete. Check this out with
the event's sponsor. A person who will be on travel or is already juggling
multiple competing assignments is not likely to meet your needs.
The tasks the event coordinator will perform are:
- Provide the detailed information needed to complete the scope document
for the Kaizen event or designate a person who can.
- Provide feedback on the draft scope document to ensure that it correctly
captures the information he or she supplied.
- Handle on-site logistics and assist with travel arrangements or designate
a person to do these tasks.
- Assist with communication tasks associated with the Kaizen event.
The event coordinator must act as the local contact able to respond to questions
from employees about the event and prompt team members to be available and
on time for the event. Following the event, the coordinator continues to communicate
about what the team did during the event and what results it produced.
- Select and arrange for an appropriate gift (e.g., ball cap, coffee mug,
T-shirt, department store gift card) to be given to team members.
- Provide input and feedback on decisions related to preparing for and conducting
the event and ensuring the effective follow through on its results.
- Follow up on action items coming out of the Kaizen event, as required.
The event coordinator must act as the local support to the Kaizen team post
event as the team follows through on action items developed in the event.
Be sure to get the event coordinator's mailing address, e-mail address, and
telephone number when speaking with the event's sponsor. Also, determine when
the person may be first contacted. This contact should not occur before the
individual knows about his or her designation as the event coordinator. Encourage
the sponsor to immediately alert the coordinator of his or her assignment
so that you can proceed with preparing for the event. Finally, if the coordinator
cannot fulfill a task of the role, get the name and contact information of
a person who can.
Stakeholders are individuals or groups who may either affect the success
of an event or be affected by its occurrence. Key stakeholders are a subset
of all stakeholders who have authority over whether the event happens or whether
the changes proposed for the target work process get implemented. The key
stakeholders to an event usually include, at a minimum, the sponsor of the
event, the manager of the target work process and his or her manager, and
the head or his or her designee of each organization outside the target work
process that must be consulted before the target work process may be modified.
Engaging the key stakeholders up front in defining and verifying the scope
of the event is critical to the event's success and especially to the continued
implementation of the improvements it generates. This is especially true when
the work process you are improving is multi-departmental. In these cases especially,
it is unlikely that any improvement will be adopted unless all affected departments
sign-off on them.
Each key stakeholder must participate in building the picture of the business,
the target work process, and the expectations for the Kaizen event. You will
need to share the draft scope document with each key stakeholder to ensure
that it represents a consensus perspective. We emphasize that sharing this
information with the key stakeholders for their approval ensures that all
parties have a complete picture of the proposed event and that no party feels
in anyway blind-sided by its outcomes. It also ensures that the Kaizen team
will have a sound foundation for its work and a higher likelihood that its
improvements will be sustained.
A Kaizen team is generally made up of six to eight members not including
the leader and co-leader. Be clear about whom you need on the team. In our
events, the team always includes people who operate the work process being
improved, both experienced and new employees. Be certain that the proposed
team has people who are knowledgeable about the machines, software systems,
maintenance operations, and the work standards used in the target work process.
The team should also include a representative of every organization directly
involved in the problem and every organization that must be consulted before
the target work process may be modified (e.g., maintenance, safety). The team
should include a customer representative when the event may have an immediate
impact on the customer or is taking place at the customer's site. Similarly,
the team should include a supplier representative when the event may affect
products or services requested from the supplier. Finally, reflect on the
likely sources of the work process problem that the Kaizen event is expected
to fix. This information is in your scope document. Use it to determine whether
there are other people with expertise relevant to the problem that you need
on the Kaizen team so that it can successfully accomplish its work.
Make Your Contacts Smart Fast
The people to make smart fast are the sponsor of the Kaizen event (the manager
requesting it), the event coordinator, the key stakeholder, the Kaizen team
members, and performers of the target work process. The sooner your first contacts
are made, the sooner the event can take place. The better informed each party
is about what Kaizen is and what their roles in making it happen, the faster
and better the performance your event coordinator and scope information source
will be able to offer.
It is critical to meet directly with the sponsor at the earliest possible time
so you can rapidly gather the sponsor's perspective on the event and alert him
or her to what is needed to speed preparation for it. We use our prepared materials
to orient the sponsor to what Kaizen is and to how one gets ready to do an event.
Exhibit 2 provides a suggested agenda for this meeting.
2. Agenda for Meeting with the Sponsor
- Get sponsor's perspective on the event
- Explain Kaizen and your Kaizen process
- Identify key requirements for preparation
- Explain the Sponsor's role in speeding the Kaizen process
Stress with the sponsor that the simplest way to accelerate the cycle of performance
is to ensure that the key requirements for a timely event are satisfied (Exhibit
3). The first of these requirements is the ready availability of the people
critical to defining and preparing for the eventthe event coordinator,
key stakeholders, and the proposed members of the Kaizen team. The second requirement
is the need for quick access to business and informationespecially the
work standards for the target work process. The third requirement for speed
is prompt logistical support from the site where the event will be held. Make
it clear that control of the preparation cycle time is in the hands of the business,
not you as the Kaizen leader. Assuming that the business acts expeditiously,
your preparation work can require as little as three days of effort; the remaining
time is a function of the business.
We speed orientation of the event coordinator by using a set of handouts we
have prepared that explain what Kaizen is and describe the coordinator's role
(see Kaizen Desk Reference Standard, R.L. Vitalo, F. Butz, and J.P. Vitalo,
Lowrey Press, 2003; pages 79-82). We get these materials to the person prior
to our first contact so that we can review them when we first speak with them.
3. Key Requirements for Preparing for an Event
- Key stakeholders
- Team members
- Work Process
- Expectations for the event
- Travel (if needed)
We use similar methods when preparing key stakeholders, the Kaizen team, and
the remaining performers of the target work process. For example, we prepare
a package of materials tailored to each group's interest and needs and get them
to the people prior to our first conversations. Some elements of the packages
For key stakeholders, we also provide the
- A brief explanation of what a Kaizen event is
- The name of the target work process;
- The straw person direction for the event (i.e., drafts of the event's mission,
goals, and the "do's and don'ts" with which the team must comply);
- The date, time, and place the event will be held;
- A list of the Kaizen team members
- The agenda for the first day of the event;
- Information about any personal protective equipment that must be brought
to the site (for team members).
We also post in the workplace where the event will be held, a Kaizen Pre-Event
Flyer. This flyer informs performers of the target work process about the event
and invites their ideas about what improvements the event should make. It must
be sent to the workplace no later than two weeks prior to the event and posted
in a place where performers are likely to see it.
- Requested involvement of the stakeholder in supporting the event (e.g.,
provide advice during the event, attend the post-event meeting);
- Significance of the stakeholder's involvement for the success of the event;
- Name of a contact person from whom additional information can be obtained
and to whom ideas may be offered.
Push to Resolve Delays
Do not tolerate wait states. If people are not available and you are not getting
callback or information is not flowingdon't wait, act! First, try to work
through the barriers to progress with the people directly. If this fails or
if the barriers they are experiencing are not within their control, escalate
the issue up to the event's sponsor. Remember, people are expecting you to deliver
an event and, as a professional, it is your responsibility not to disappoint
Some wait states are due to missing business information (e.g., cycle time,
unit cost, average labor rates, average defect rates). We continue to be amazed
by the extent to which basic business information may be missing or held out
of the reach of local managers. When this information is missing, we use "work
arounds" to speed the process. For example, if labor cost for a work process
is not available, we may estimate it based on the total operating cost for the
work process and the type of industry the business is in. (Different industries
have different profiles of cost with respect to its labor and non-labor components.)
Other suggestions for working around missing information are provided in Kaizen
Desk Reference Standard.
Repeat What Works
When you return to a business to do a follow-on Kaizen event, remember what
worked previously. Request the people who effectively coordinated that last
event as your contacts for the follow-on event. They will need much less set-up
time to do their roles. Re-use the elements of scope information that have not
changed (e.g., the basic business information). Move from an "uncover,
compile, and check" strategy to a "draft and check" approach,
leveraging your knowledge and the relationships you have establish. For example,
if you are improving the same work process, leverage your learning about it
to rapidly draft the scope document. Be certain, however, that you confirm every
bit of information you propose. Also, leverage your learning about where to
hold the event and what sources to use to meet logistical needs.
Don't Jettison Your Process
One solution you should not take to speeding preparation is to succumb
to pressure and jettison your preparation process. Not infrequently, a business
will attempt to resolve the problem of its people or business information not
being available by arguing that you really do not need to speak with them or
to have the information you seek. They will say that the problem that the team
must fix is straightforward, the work process is simple, and everyone is ready
to support the effort. Here we leverage our work standard for doing Kaizen (Kaizen
Desk Reference Standard) to ensure our success. We remind the business that
conducting an event that will reliably produce its intended results requires
the same discipline and adherence to a standard as producing any product right
the first time. We advise you to do the same. Stick to your process. The knowledge
embedded within it and your commitment to put it in the service of people define
you as a professional. If you give in to pressure, you surrender your expertise
and, with it, the opportunity to benefit the business.
Exhibit 4 depicts the key tasks in our Kaizen event process. They are: Focus
the Kaizen event, Evaluate the target work process, Solve the performance issue,
and Act to improve the target work process.
In the first task, Focus the Kaizen Event, the team’s job is to build
a direction for the event based on the facts in the workplace. We build our
“fact base” by describing the target work process and doing a walk
through of the process. With the information we gather, we redefine the mission,
goals, and do’s and don’ts of the event, reconciling the new direction
with that we inherited from the scope document we prepare prior to the event.
Even before we begin focusing the event, we spend a time ensuring that team
members know each other and understand the purpose of the event and how Kaizen
is accomplished. We build ground rules for working together and make sure that
everyone feels comfortable with what we are doing and how we will get it done.
To accelerate the Kaizen event's execution, externalize the setup that takes
place within this first task of the event. Transfer certain activities to the
preparation process. Using this approach, we have completed Kaizen events within
three and a half days for a first-time event within a workplace and three days
for follow-on events. The key elements to externalize are preparing the people
who will participate in the event, building the work process description, and
completing the work process walk through.
Conduct a Pre-Event Workshop
Kaizen succeeds or fails based on how well you energize and engage the people
who must make it happen and must follow through to ensure that the benefits
it generates sustain. People participating in the event need to know about Kaizen
and what it can offer both in terms of business results and expanded opportunities
to make a difference in the workplace. They need to understand the concept of
waste and be skilled in detecting it, and they should have the Working With
Others skills.1 These
skills enable people to share information and ideas efficiently and build better
We conduct a one-day pre-event workshop to accomplish these purposes. Be sure
to schedule the workshop for the week before the Kaizen event so that the preparation
work is fresh in the team members’ minds.
During the day, we meet with the key stakeholders, the performers of the target
work process, and the proposed team. We break the session into two parts. In
the first part, we include all participants and use it to introduce the purpose
of the proposed event, educate about Kaizen and how it is executed, and solicit
feedback and ideas on how to make the event a success.
We include only the Kaizen team in the second part of the session. We use this
session to begin building the teamwork needed for the event and to sustain continuous
improvements after it is done. We begin this meeting with teaching an abridged
version of Working With Others (WWO) skills. These enable people to understand
the ideas and information others are sharing and express their own ideas in
ways that keep group members connected and moving toward their common goal.
The Working With Others skills are clarifying and confirming, which help you
build an accurate picture of what another person is sharing; and constructive
criticism and hitchhiking, which allow you to add your ideas in a way that builds
better solutions while maintaining positive relationships. We weave into the
learning process activities that apply the skills and advance team building.
For example, team members use the skills to learn about each other's expectations
for the event, to probe the explore purpose of the event, and to develop further
their understanding of Kaizen. Later, we have team members use these skills
to confirm the draft work process description (see next section) and educate
themselves about the concept of waste and how to detect it. The WWO skills eliminate
the waste of correcting misunderstandings and wandering from the main topic
being discussed. The skills add value by giving people a means to express their
ideas constructively and efficiently thereby accelerating the team's progress.
Build the Work Process Description Before
Even before we conduct our pre-event workshop, we build a map of the target
work process. Mapping the work process supplies the Kaizen team with a common
understanding of the work it will measure and improve. Almost always, the mapping
activity uncovers and resolves inconsistencies among the team members in how
they understand the target work process. It also provides the first opportunity
to uncover waste in the process and it gives information needed to plan the
team's walk through of the process.
To accelerate focusing the Kaizen event, do a draft of the work process description
prior to the event, getting the information from the work standards and from
interviews with at least two people knowledgeable of the target work process.
One person should be the manager of the target work process; the second should
be a performer of the work process. Collect information through telephone conversations,
e-mail, or face-to-face conversations when practical. Draft the description
and send it to the interviewees for confirmation or adjustment. We use a standard
format (see Kaizen Desk Reference Standard, pages 212-213) that captures an
overview of the process, a detailed map of it, and key information about each
Bring the draft map to the pre-event workshop for the team to review and polish.
Even if you do not complete a pre-event workshop, doing the map prior to the
first day of the event still allows you to speed your execution since you save
time building the map during the event itself. You only need to review with
Do the Walk Through as Part of the Workshop
As part of the pre-event workshop, we teach members about the concept of waste
and build their skill in detecting waste in a work process. We solidify the
team's learning by completing some components of the walk through of the target
work process as part of the pre-event workshop. The components we include are
preparing people to observe the work process, executing the walk through itself,
and recording and classifying the waste the teamed observes. We leave processing
the results of the work through for the event itself since this activity immediately
triggers the remaining Kaizen activities (i.e., building the event's final mission
and goals, evaluating the target work process, solving the performance issue,
and acting to improve the target work process).
Reap the Benefits
By mapping the target work process before the event and conducting the one-day
pre-event orientation session, you can begin the first day of the Kaizen event
with summarizing the results of the walk through and, using these findings to
finish focusing the event (defining its final mission, goals, and do's and don'ts).
With the focus set, you can prepare for evaluating the target work process (measuring
the amounts of waste within it) at the end of Day 1 and execute the evaluation
at the beginning of Day 2. Solving the performance problems you uncover can
begin in the afternoon of the second day and finish early on the morning of
Day 3. The team will immediately make the improvements it devises. It will need
to limit the scope of the actions it implements within the event so that Day
4 can be used to conduct the close-out meeting with the team and prepare team
members to communicate the results of the event to stakeholders. Improvements
that cannot be executed on Day 3 are placed on the event's follow through plan
for action after the event.
1 These skills are delineated in J.S. Byron and P.V. Bierley, Working With Others (Hope, ME: Lowrey Press,
Published April 2004
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