Kaizen: Rapid Change for a Rapidly Changing World

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The fastest way to resolve an issue might actually be by using tools focused on change. In this rapidly changing environment, if you find that process changes are occurring on a regular basis, your process improvement initiatives also need to have the speed and agility to change with the times. Gone are the year-long teams to determine feasibility of a process change or product enhancement!

It is not to say that a Kaizen event is the end-all, be-all solution to fix all of today’s economic issues, but it is a good start to solving some of them. As the U.S. government steps in to enact change and provide support to the various institutions in the country, there are additional changes that must take place within these institutions—some large, some procedural and some, hopefully, cultural.

Kaizen as a methodology has the ability to speed up that change process and more importantly finalize the solutions into standardized processes expeditiously. This benefits the organization by not having “floating” processes in place and the end-user by making a seamless process easy to use. Kaizen does this by having a structured approach, with specific deliverables, and ownership of the changes after the Kaizen is completed.

Facilitating a Successful Kaizen Process

A refined approach to completing a Kaizen is the key to ensuring results. More importantly, the approach needs to be facilitated by an individual who has good people skills, excellent team work capabilities, quick conflict resolution skills and in-depth negotiating skills. This type of leader, coupled with an empowered team, is best poised for success. We can all relate to a project we were exposed to that did not quite reach its full potential, either because of the lack of direction in the project management or the lack of experience in the project manager. Kaizen can easily mitigate issues by using the above criteria for the facilitator while following a rigorous application of a 10-step methodology.

Kaizen’s Ten-Step Process

Your favorite process improvement methodology can be molded from Kaizen’s 10 steps, including Six Sigma, Plan Do Check Act (PCDA), or even Select Clarify Organize Run Evaluate (SCORE). This flexibility gives the Kaizen an ability to be used throughout your organization by any experienced facilitator. These 10 steps are the process map through which the event is kept on track and participants remain engaged. See the steps below to compare the other methodologies to the Kaizen process.

  1. Define the problem
  2. Document the current situation
  3. Visualize the ideal situation
  4. Define measurement targets
  5. Brainstorm solutions to the problem
  6. Develop Kaizen plan
  7. Implement plan
  8. Measure, record and compare results to targets
  9. Prepare summary documents
  10. Create short term action plan, on-going standards and sustaining plan

Empowering Process Change

Additionally, it is imperative that the participants in the event be empowered to implement any changes. This is a key to success otherwise the new processes or process changes will be short lived and the people doing the work on a day-to-day basis will quickly revert back to the old methods.

There are also key people that need to be present in a Kaizen event: the subject matter expert, the process owner, one or two of the front-line workers (those people that experience the process on a regular basis) and an outside novice (someone unfamiliar with the process). However, none of these positions should be filled by the facilitator. I’d suggest that you use a facilitator from outside the area to prevent that individual from unconsciously steering the event in a particular direction, or, even worse, consciously steering the event in a particular direction.

Timing is Key

The difference between Kaizen and other events is timing. Kaizen by definition is small changes for the better. Today, Kaizen events are known to have the results implemented before the conclusion of the event. This just-in-time process improvement capability also hinges on all of the participants buying-in to consensus that the changes are correct and beneficial. This also leads to an inherent pride of ownership in the changes (also a factor in ensuring sustainability).

As you can expect, there are always exceptions to the rule, and some things can not be changed during an event. If your organization is regulated, then you may not be able to instantaneously change processes or procedures. Keep in mind that anytime this is an issue, the topic may be too complex for a Kaizen. For some of these items, the Kaizen sponsor should oversee the completion of a 30-day action plan. This plan should be tightly monitored and reviewed on a weekly basis to ensure that the items on the list are being addressed appropriately.

Some examples of the 30-day action items are updating procedures, printing out new brochures, distributing new forms to users and reconfiguring offices (in a manufacturing environment this may be a simple task that can be easily completed in the event; however, in a services organization it may require vendor support and purchasing and facilities coordination).

Identifying Topics for Kaizen

Here are some common themes that may be addressed for Kaizen:

  • Improving customer forms received in good order.
  • Improving first time call resolution in a call center.
  • Streamlining the order to payment process in purchasing.
  • Streamlining the reporting of hours worked to payroll.
  • Reducing time to hire and onboard new employees.
  • Reducing the submission to completion cycle time for facilities requests.
  • Co-designing forms or content (for a web application) with the largest single user (this may be an external Kaizen with great partnering opportunities).

Why Kaizen Can Work for Your Organization

Kaizen is an excellent way to formalize some simple improvement activities that are not always run in an optimal format. Kaizen also avoids the stigma of a formalized project that may be drawn out over several weeks or months. Most importantly, Kaizen provides just-in-time process improvements. By using the above 10-step methodology, ensuring the relevant parties are participating and empowered, and that those steps not able to be completed in the event are completed within 30 days, Kaizen can enable significant and sustainable improvements to any organization.

About New to Lean


Are you just getting started with Lean? Find out everything you need to know in this series of articles and case studies.

Jason Gerros and William Scotto Contributor: Jason Gerros and William Scotto



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