Kaizen is a continuous improvement model meant to tackle specific needs within a facility, often related to safety, training, maintenance, or organization. While Kaizen is an ongoing process that focuses on improving working practices and efficacy, implementing Kaizen Events can target specific goals rather than broader improvements.
What Is a Kaizen Event?
Part of the 5S/Lean methodology, Kaizen Events recruit members from throughout the facility to work together in a process designed to show results quickly—without the wind-up time often required when implementing longer-term projects. This means employees see results faster and are less likely to lose steam waiting for the pieces to come together. Action-oriented Kaizen Events typically last three to five days and require planning for the best results.
Five Steps to Kaizen Event Success
Many Kaizen Events follow a basic event structure which is broken down into three steps: Plan, Implement, Train. Focus on these five key areas when planning for an organized, beneficial event.
1) Choose a Goal and Define Success
First, consider what changes you will address and in which department. This preparation should include detailed information regarding why the event is necessary—what the concern is, who it affects, and the financial, safety, or productivity risk associated. To determine these details, look at the data gathered through regular audits, inspections, reports, and feedback from all employees. With these items in mind, create a plan that states your realistic goals and objectives, focuses on a measurable outcome, and determines how you’ll measure success.
A Kaizen Event takes on one problem within the facility at a time, so your goal and related follow-up metrics should relate to that specific concern. Determine how you’ll measure success: You can measure a thirty percent reduction in slip, trip, or fall injuries, but it’s more difficult to gauge a goal like increasing warehouse picking efficiency. Once goals are set, you can determine your ideal Kaizen Event length—anything from one to five days is standard, depending on event objectives.
2) Set the Scope of the Event
Kaizen Events target specific needs, so define the scope and concrete goals of the project ahead of time. For example, if your event intends to update the floor markings to divert pedestrian traffic away from a forklift use area, your focus should be on applying floor markings and signage and training employees regarding the new requirements—not also re-marking the pavement outside the loading dock.
Your Kaizen Event report should detail the reason for the event, include the changes and tools you intend to use as you seek improvement, and should state the expected outcome. Anything beyond the stated goals, actions, and follow-up tracking falls outside of the event’s scope.
Some examples of specific Kaizen Event targets include:
- Apply floor marking tape to workstation floors to improve production processes and reduce wasted materials
- Evaluate the warehouse picking method and look for ways to improve the method to reduce picking time or wasted back-and-forth trips
- Create a Red Tag area and apply the 5S step, Sort, to remove clutter and organize workspaces
- Inspect and tune-up all forklifts or warehouse vehicles
- Host a sitewide training based on current need—determined by reviewing reports and statistics, or via an employee survey
- Coordinate an all-hands-on-deck brainstorming session to generate ideas related to current needs—from improving efficiency or adjusting technique for quality to morale-boosting group activities to build a sense of community
- Adjust workstation ergonomics to prevent unnecessary bending and stooping while working
- Re-arrange workstations to put steps in specific processes side-by-side, rather than having to move from one area to another to complete—saving time and preventing unnecessary movement of materials
If you can’t remain within scope, you may need to tackle the goals incrementally, outside of the short-term project.
3) Assign Kaizen Event Roles for Success
A Kaizen Event requires planning to be successful, and there are many layers to this preparation. From pre-event planning—including setting the scope and length of the event, identifying employees who should be included, and organizing event-day details—to wrap-up to record-keeping. Each participant should know and understand their role so they can provide the most value to the whole team, so assign duties ahead of time.
Roles that keep the event running smoothly include:
- The Project Sponsor, the manager of the Kaizen Event, should be familiar with the facility itself and have experience running Kaizen Events.
- The Team Leader assists in setting goals, assigning tasks, and collaborating with team members.
- Team Members are engaged participants in the Kaizen Event, who often join the team from positions within the facility.
- An Outside Facilitator is an optional external consultant or partner who brings fresh eyes to the project.
- A Data Administrator or Recorder is a team member whose role is to identify and collect data to document the event, including a snapshot of “before” and “after” to track improvement.
Use incentives to encourage participation and foster employee buy-in—the more involved your employees are, the greater success your event will be.
4) Provide Adequate Training Before, During, and After
No process is “set it and forget it,” so training should occur as part of the Kaizen Event, as well as regularly afterward. Kaizen Events focused on filling in knowledge gaps are built around new or updated training—but the lessons go beyond training-centric events. There are training opportunities through all phases of the event.
Before the event, consider how you’ll prepare employees. Your Team Leader may be new to a leadership role, so allow them to learn and practice new skills while leveraging the skills they already have. Pre-event, all involved employees should know what’s expected of them—which may mean delegating and explaining what is expected in each role, training employees how to use the tools used during the event, and ensuring that all employees understand what a Kaizen Event is. All Kaizen Events should begin with a full-team brief that details the expectations, goals, and methods.
During the event, the team leader, facilitator, and sponsor should work together to keep all staff safe and motivated. Teaching new skills—how to work floor marking equipment or a more efficient way to log data—benefits the Kaizen Event and extends to non-event tasks. The facilitator or sponsor may make note of standout performers who may appreciate the opportunity to learn new skills, or even join the leadership team for the next Kaizen Event. The final step of any Kaizen Event should be to ensure all employees are trained on any new processes and that changes in workflows or traffic patterns are clearly marked to reinforce the changes. Informational training sessions support Kaizen’s goal—and support employees. Complete the event with another full-team brief that looks back at the progress made, problems encountered, and next steps.
After the event, floor markings and signage continue to reinforce event-day instruction and provide valuable instructions for anyone not present during the initial training. Additionally, the Kaizen Event may have pinpointed specific training needs which can be addressed. Evaluate the data, see where goals fell short, and tailor future training and workshops to fill in the gaps where needed.
5) Host Another Kaizen Event
Kaizen is about continuous improvement. This improvement is ongoing through small- and large-scale initiatives, but Kaizen Events are impactful ways to tackle specific items in a short timeframe. This process may be the ideal way to implement pedestrian traffic lanes, re-mark warehouse floors, improve visibility by re-arranging warehouse shelving to reduce blindspots, or host a full-facility training event when you note an increase in workplace injuries. Recording data before, during, and after Kaizen Events can help you choose the next event target—but you can look beyond the previous events to determine your next best step. Look to records, reports, audits, consultants, staff, and visitors for future goals—and always aim for continuous improvement.
Kaizen Events are just one method for improvment within an industrial facility. No two warehouses or production facilities are the same, and each requires methods to meet location- and needs-specific goals. For more industrial safety and training information, browse our Resource Center.