The Germans developed a style of warfare, called blitzkrieg, that employed a rapid and overwhelming use of force to disrupt and defeat their enemies. In this article, we will discuss what a Kaizen Blitz is, when and how to use it, and some best practices for deploying your troops.
Overview: What is a Kaizen Blitz?
The terms Kaizen Blitz and Kaizen Event can be used interchangeably. Kaizen is a Japanese term that means “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” And a blitz is “a fast intensive nonmilitary campaign or attack.”
In the context of Lean Six Sigma, we can define a Kaizen Blitz as a rapid, intensive activity or event that attacks a specific problem with overwhelming resources to rapidly come to a solution.
A Kaizen Blitz is the organized use of team knowledge that can improve all aspects of your organization. Such an event assembles cross-functional teams aimed at improving a process or problem identified within a specific area. You can use a Kaizen Blitz in the following situations:
- When obvious problems have been identified but no known solutions exist.
- When the scope and boundaries of a problem are clearly defined and relatively narrow in scope.
- When results are needed in the short term.
- In the early stages of a project to gain momentum and build credibility.
A Kaizen Blitz is a structured event and follows the sequence of DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control). However, there are some notable differences between a classical DMAIC project and a Kaizen Blitz.
|Duration of 3-6 months||Duration of 3-5 days|
|Part-time participation||Resources are utilized full-time during the Blitz|
|Problem and scope defined at beginning||Problem and scope defined before Blitz|
|Can use intensive statistical analysis||Uses basic data and analysis|
|Complete detailed analysis||Bias for action — Pareto concept|
|Implement solutions over months||Implement some solutions immediately; others within 20-30 days|
|Expand team as needed||Intensive support beyond team (HR, IT, sales, and subject matter experts (SMEs))|
The Blitz follows the DMAIC methodology but categorizes the steps into three phases: Preparation, Event, and Followup. While your company may vary the actual schedule and length of the Blitz, below is a common schedule of activities.
Define (Prep Week)
- Clearly define the objective of the Blitz.
- Pre-Blitz prep: Select team members, perform logistics, send out notifications, collect data, and provide any preparation training for the team or organization.
Measure (Prep Week and Monday of the Blitz)
- Validate any process mapping that was done.
- Go to Gemba and observe and record any observations relevant to the Blitz.
- Quickly validate your root causes and identify/review sources of the problem.
- Review appropriate improvement techniques, then brainstorm process improvements.
- Create an action item list for implementing any improvement recommendations.
- Implement process improvements, train employees, then test, fine-tune, and ensure the process is capable.
- Create standard operating procedures to document and sustain your improvements.
- Present your results to the management team, complete your follow-up, and develop a plan to monitor your results over time.
3 benefits of a Kaizen Blitz
A rapid, focused approach to improvement using the collective knowledge and experience of motivated employees will have many benefits for your organization.
1. Shortened time frame
By completing an improvement cycle in 3-5 days versus months, you will be able to make changes in your processes and accrue benefits over a longer period of time.
2. Engages people
Rather than rely on an engineer or a LSS resource alone, you will get two benefits from a Kaizen Blitz. First, you will have at your disposal the collective knowledge of those who actually do the work. Second, you will engage people in the improvement of their own jobs and help spread the culture of continuous improvement.
3. Encourages collaboration
Participating in a Kaizen Blitz might be the first time some of your team members will have the chance to work on a team and develop collaboration skills. It would be a good opportunity for you to observe how your team interacts — and possibly spot a diamond in the rough who might make a good leader one day.
Why is a Kaizen Blitz important to understand?
While simple on the surface, you will want to understand the mechanics and details of how to run a Blitz.
When to use a Kaizen Blitz (and when not to)
A Blitz has a great advantage over other types of improvement events. Knowing when it is most appropriate to use one is important for you to understand so you get the maximum benefit from it.
The Kaizen Blitz is designed to implement changes in a short time frame. Understanding that will help you keep your focus narrow enough to complete your changes within that shorter time frame and not have the final outcomes of the Blitz stretch on too long.
The Blitz generally does not need the use of the more complex and sophisticated tools of LSS. If you get bogged down with a lot of statistical analysis, you won’t be able to get much accomplished in the time allowed for the Blitz.
An industry example of a Kaizen Blitz
A major beverage company delivered its 2-liter products to customers in plastic shells. The site chosen for the Kaizen Event purchased over 1.5 million shells that year for a cost of over $3,000,000. The standard process is that, after a driver delivers the product in shells, they are supposed to pick up and return the empty shells to manufacturing. The problem was that the return rate was only 71%, which required the company to continuously purchase new shells.
A Kaizen team was formed to include members from finance, delivery, warehouse, sales, merchandising, and the supplier of the shells. The team was subdivided into three groups and instructed to visit local customers consisting of large grocery stores, small grocery stores, and convenience stores. Each group recorded their observations on how the shells were handled and stored on property. All of the groups reconvened and shared their observations and insights.
After analyzing the problem and process, the team determined that the problem was due to driver issues, customer issues, and theft. Recommendations were made to improve communication, accountability, and security.
On the fifth day of the Kaizen, the team made a presentation to the sponsor and the entire executive leadership team. The site improved the return rate from 71% to over 85% for a direct savings of approximately $900,000. The team also made recommendations to replicate their work, resulting in a system-wide capital savings of over $2,000,000.
4 best practices when thinking about a Kaizen Blitz
It takes a good deal of practice and experience to efficiently and effectively run a Blitz. Here are a few tips for how to make your Blitz successful.
1. Preplanning to identify the appropriate scope, the most appropriate participants, and the collection of relevant data
The more you accomplish in the Prep stage, the less rework and delay you will have during the event.
2. Stay focused and on task
It will be easy for you and your team to wander off on tangents. Keep bringing people back to the task at hand and focus on your problem and scope.
3. Making available a subject matter expert (SME) during the Blitz who, if needed, can quickly collect and analyze additional supporting data.
Your team may not contain all the knowledge necessary to come up with the best solution. You should identify and include SMEs as needed during the Blitz.
4. Communicate frequently with the sponsor
Your sponsor has defined the scope of the Blitz. Be sure to touch base with the sponsor on a frequent basis during the week to make sure you and the team are on track and headed in the right direction. You don’t want to find out on the last day, when you’re presenting your recommendations to leadership, that you have gone astray.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about a Kaizen Blitz
1. How big should a Kaizen Blitz team be?
It is typical for a Blitz team to be made up of 5-10 people. Much more than that, and it will make it hard for you to maintain control and “herd the cats.” Much fewer, and you don’t get the synergy (and benefits) of multiple perspectives and knowledge.
2. How long should a Kaizen Blitz take?
While it depends on the nature and scope of the issue you’re addressing, most Blitzes range from 3-5 days of full-time dedication.
3. How quickly should I be able to implement recommendations from my Kaizen Blitz?
This will depend on the complexity of your recommendations as well as any company constraints. But, if you’ve properly scoped your inquiry and recommendations, you should be able to implement a significant amount of changes during the Blitz week. Beyond that, you should try to get the rest of your recommendations implemented within 20-30 days after completing the event.
Let’s blitz the conclusion of a Kaizen Blitz
A Kaizen Blitz is an expedited formal and structured improvement activity consisting of a team of inter- and/or intra-functional people (5-10) over a concentrated duration of time (3-5 days) who utilize the DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) methodology to solve a scoped problem and improve the underlying process(es).
A Kaizen Blitz will usually be facilitated by a Lean Six Sigma resource (Green Belt, Black Belt, or Master Black Belt) and be sponsored by a member of leadership.