Updated: Jun 13
by Katie Labedz
If you look up the definition of “kaizen” online or in any dictionary it will be defined as “good change” or a “Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, etc.” I honestly don’t believe those definitions do it justice.
Kaizen is a REVOLUTIONARY change. It’s a game changing activity to solve a problem with a cross functional team over a set period of time that is based on a measurable problem statement and agreed upon scope and goal(s). Kaizen moves mountains for any process, in any industry, across the globe. All this being said…these wonderful, earth moving, ground breaking things only happen if a kaizen event is run WELL. Running a great kaizen event is an art and each of us that do these on a regular basis have different art forms. I personally like to think of kaizen events as a process improvement party!
Your host of the party is an experienced party planning individual (usually a Black Belt or Master Black Belt). They don’t need to have all the answers, but they do need to know how to organize and facilitate a kaizen event (regardless of the topic). A great kaizen facilitator can facilitate any type of event, in any industry just like a great party planner can throw a mind-blowing wedding and an intimate birthday party.
First we have to determine why we are throwing a party. What’s the occasion? The occasion is usually a big, bad and U-G-L-Y (ugly) problem that either has recently developed or has been going on for a certain period of time. You may have tried (unsuccessfully) to resolve this problem on your own, but it’s just not cutting it. You feel like you are missing something and just can’t get this one over the finish line (cue calling me or sending me an email asking for help).
Just like any other party, we have to know who we are going to invite. The party people for a kaizen event ALWAYS include the process owner(s). They are like the owner of the house where you are throwing the party. They need to know what is going on and what changes we are making and have to ultimately approve of them. The remainder of the “guests” are those that participate in the process, key stakeholder(s) (people positively or negatively impacted by this process and any changes we make), subject matter experts (like a wine connoisseur… they know all there is to know about X topic related to you problem/party) and “fresh eyes” from people not directly related to problem but they typically have great ideas (and are fun to be around).
The party people will work together (with guidance from the party planner) to create a MEASURABLE problem statement. Why measurable? Because we need to understand where we are starting to know whether or not the changes, we make actually permanently solve our problem (or make it worse…yes, that can happen). Think of this measurable problem statement like the formula for how much food/drink you are going to need for the party. You wouldn’t want to run out of food within the first 15 minutes, would you? That’s why it is so important for the problem statement to be measurable. We also work to create a corresponding goal to our problem statement, because what’s a party without a goal (or theme)?
Now that we know the occasion (problem), the attendees, the measurable problem statement and goal (amount of food/drink and the party theme), we work to determine how long this party is going to be held. Is it a one-day party or a week long event? I would love to tell you that there is a mathematical calculation for this, but I haven’t found one yet. It’s based on the knowledge, skills and experience of your facilitator (party planner). It’s better to plan for the party to go a bit longer and be done early than vice versa.
The real magic happens when the party gets started. When I run a kaizen event, my typical agenda includes: establish rules of the road, review problem statement and goal, SIPOC, current state value stream map, ideal state, future state value stream map, reflection and report out. It’s fun and exhausting at the same time.
Kaizen events can change you as a person. It helps you to look at processes in a completely different way, it allows you to better understand your team members, it changes your appreciation for someone else’s (or your own) day to day work and it teaches you new tools and techniques that you can IMMEDIATELY put to great use.
If we can get consistently fantastic kaizen events run around the world, then the demand for them will rise. Lean, continuous improvement and Six Sigma concepts won’t be quite as scary to many. Companies will realize that the time and effort that it takes to run and participate in a kaizen event provides at least 10-fold benefits. It will spark the interest in some to want to pursue their Green Belt or even Black Belt certifications to be able to run these events on their own (with help from people like me!) It will open the eyes of the participants to the unlimited possibilities we have for eliminating wastes in a process. It will inspire others to take these concepts and apply it in their own areas.
Let’s get your party started!
Katie Labedz is the President of Learning to Lean, LLC. She is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and Project Management Professional. She has been practicing Lean, Six Sigma and Project Management concepts for over 20 years. She has a diverse background that includes manufacturing, materials, supply chain, HR and IT in the automotive and electronic industries. Katie makes it her professional goal to expose the genius in all of her students. She has also authored a book, "How to Improve Absolutely Anything-Continuous Improvement in Your Home, Office and Family Life." You can reach Katie on LinkedIn, via her website www.learningtolean.training or via email email@example.com.