Kaizen events – concentrated meetings that are designed to bring about rapid change – are often misunderstood by those who have not completed one. From the outside, the events may simply seem like advanced all-day meetings with fanfare. What many organizations do not fully appreciate is the investment required to pull off such an orchestrated affair.

Organizations considering conducting Kaizen events must be ready to make a significant commitment to change management by properly preparing attendees for the expectations of the event, executing the event smoothly and implementing solutions developed during the event in a timely and effective manner.

Defining Kaizen

A true Kaizen is a coordinated, two- to three-day event attended by process owners, sponsors and subject-matter experts of a particular process with the purpose of making immediate improvements to that process. These events are about gathering together key decision makers, as well as those familiar with the process, to discuss the challenge, determine the solution and coordinate the plan to fix the problem.

The Kaizen strategy aims to involve the team, use analytical tools to identify opportunities and design improvement efforts quickly to eliminate waste. The team works to implement chosen improvements rapidly (often within 72 hours of initiating the Kaizen event), typically focusing on solutions that do not involve large capital outlays.

A Kaizen session is not a backyard barbeque, it is a debutante ball – the social event of the season. A date must be selected when all key players can confirm their attendance, which may require three to six months of advanced planning. The day of the event must be clearly coordinated, with a formal agenda, including breaks and food delivery, along with the deliverables and expectations of the event written within view of all attendees (likely in very large font). This may take months of planning and organizational preparation. It will also require an executive sponsor to commit to the event – that alone may be an Olympic event.

Why the dramatic explanation? Because if an organization is going to introduce Kaizen practices into its culture, it must be willing to commit to the necessary preparation. Organizations need to plan these events with the intent of implementing immediate improvements that will yield measureable results.

Planning and Preparing

As with most important events, the planning portion of a Kaizen takes the most time, with countless elements to consider. The following is a partial checklist of things organizations will need to do in order to set up a Kaizen event:

  • Book the location.
  • Invite attendees and confirm their attendance.
  • Create an agenda (do not forget to allow for short bathroom and eating breaks).
  • Establish when the sponsor will appear throughout the day for decision-making purposes or opportunities.
  • Determine what data will need to be available in order to make decisions (process maps, files and so on).
  • Set up a data center for use during the session, including a laptop, printer and paper. Computers used during the session should not have access to email.
  • Prepare the facility with Post-It notes, colored dots, white boards, flip charts, markers, pens, paper, printing supplies, an overhead projector and back-up bulbs.
  • Determine the role of each attendee.
  • Determine what must be accomplished each day.
  • Determine ground rules for the session.
  • Determine how decisions will be made (seniority, consensus, majority vote or some other method).

In addition, there are a few critical steps in the planning and preparation phase that must not be skipped:

  • Select the topic of the event: Build a strong relationship with the sponsor and clearly capture their goals and expectations.
  • Define the goal: Include the Champion and the sponsor in pre-event discussions to outline the goals and expectations. Review a detailed agenda for the event.
  • Organize the event: Meet with the team to finalize the goals, select participants, select the appropriate day and meeting location, and prepare.
  • Collect data: Assign pre-work, generate process maps, and assemble all necessary documents and data prior to the day of the event.
  • Brief key participants: Review the goals, expectations, dress code, dining options, roles and deliverables prior to the event.

Finally, in the planning and preparation phase, organizations must not forget about the significance of selecting the appropriate team to attend the kaizen and gather data prior to the day of the event. Remember: Kaizen events are designed to generate solutions. That means decisions must be made. Therefore, those in attendance must have the power to make decisions and have the data and facts associated with those decisions.

Execute the Session

As any great project manager knows, great meetings do not happen by themselves. When the day arrives and attendees show up for a prompt Kaizen start, it must be clear what will and will not happen over the course of the two- to three-day period. This is not the time or the place for being vague or chatty. Cut to the chase – post the rules, commitment statement, expectations and goal of the event so everyone can see them, and start the event by reviewing verbally these areas. The event should end with action plans in place, marching orders ready for each participant and a rollout schedule determined for making improvements happen immediately.

Executing the session also means running a well-oiled machine and planning for every foreseeable contingency. Performing an FMEA in the planning stages never hurts. Regardless of what improvements are made, the list below represents the most basic actions the team should complete during the session:

  • Finalize a communication plan
  • Design a training plan
  • Finalize an action plan with responsibility assignments
  • Finalize a marketing/image plan
  • Determine what is in/what is out (part of an overall scope plan or multi-generational project plan)
  • Finalize the implementation plan (the who, what, where, when and how)

The following is a sample Kaizen event agenda:

Day 1

8:00 – 8:30: Breakfast, introductions and general announcements

8:30 – 9:00: Kick-off with sponsor

9:00 – Noon: Start meeting

  • Define process start and stop point
  • Define the customer and value for the customer
  • Set the goals, expectations and metrics as defined by the customer

Noon – 1:30: Walk the process with all participants

1:30 – 4:00: Build a current state map (working lunch)

  • Map the value stream (activities, departments, systems)
  • Add times (process times, wait times)
  • Identify seven types of waste
  • Identify value-added and non-value-added activities

4:00 – 4:45: Report out with all relevant decision makers

Day 2

8:00 – 8:30: Breakfast and general announcements

8:30 – 9:00: Instructions from sponsor

9:00 – Noon: Map future state

  • Collect radical improvement ideas
  • Collect short-term improvement ideas
  • Map long-term future state (six months from now)
  • Map short-term future state (two weeks from now)

Noon – 12:30: Lunch

12:30 – 4:00: Define action plan (the process owners should take over the main tasks, not the facilitator)

4:00 – 4:45: Report out with all relevant decision makers

4:45 – 5:00: Final statements from sponsor

Implementing Results

The day after a Kaizen event has ended, the team should be prepared to make change happen and implement new process improvements. Kaizen is about making continuous process improvement, so organizations should not expect to solve world hunger in these short but intense sessions. The goal at the end of each Kaizen is to implement improvements that are within the team’s control, that are impactful to those in the process and that help to empower the team to take the next steps on the continuous improvement spectrum. The team should incorporate some kind of follow-up activity to ensure that improvements are sustained and not simply temporary.

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