History and strong evidence suggest that business processes have long been crucial to the success and growth of a company. Toyota Motor Corporation is one such supreme example.
Back in the 1960s when Toyota was on the brink of collapse, a Japanese industrialist and businessman by the name of Taiichi Ohno adopted an American innovation that the Japanese progressively developed and worked upon. Ohno himself is responsible for generously contributing to the improvement of the process - one that came to be known as Kaizen.
Thanks to Ohno, the Kaizen process was implemented in such a manner so as to improve the year on year sales of Toyota to the point of it surpassing General Motors Company, an impossible feat considering not one motor company was able to do so for a long 77 years.
Under Ohno’s direction and implementation, Kaizen’s arrangement for scaling down waste and boosting efficiencies through steady and extended improvement worked wonders for Toyota.
But what can businesses achieve by utilizing the Kaizen approach in the modern context? This article will venture to discuss just that.
Kaizen Events: Definition
Etymologically speaking, the term Kaizen (of Japanese origin) refers to ‘change for better’ implying the intention of pursuing improvement that is continuous in nature.
Originally, the concept of kaizen was brought about to address organizational activity by way of improving all existing business processes as well as functions starting from the CEO up until assembly line workers in manufacturing units.
Although the approach was initially limited to the lean production process (an approach to management that involves cutting out waste) and lean software development, it’s popularity over the decades has influenced its application into other various aspects of business processes such as automation, suggestion systems, quality control, and small group activities.
Presently, kaizen has been upgraded to include business projects popularly known as ‘Kaizen Blitz’ or ‘Kaizen Events’.
Kaizen Events definition - Usually conducted in the course of a week or 5 days to address a specific business problem, a Kaizen Event is essentially a ‘focused development project’ that is able to bring about crucial improvements in a short time span. In order for the Kaizen Event to be a success, they must have a definite and brief goal aside from being equipped with readily available resources with quick results.
Types of Kaizen Events and Why You Need Them
Although it has been established that the main agenda behind the kaizen methodology is the fact that any problem be it big or small can be improved upon, there are many ways through which companies can achieve this. Ultimately, each of these small improvements is bound to lead to big-time developments over time. Here’s a look at the most important types of Kaizen Events.
1. Point Kaizen
The most widely used Kaizen Event, the point kaizen is known for its ‘ready, fire, aim’, approach. This type of kaizen process is focused on making quick changes at particular work stations (mostly utilized in departments and companies). As soon as a problem is identified at a workstation, measures that don’t necessarily involve comprehensive planning are taken, and a swift solution is enforced.
A unique point about point kaizen is the fact that while these activities are continuous, minor improvements in nature are most of the time unconnected to each other.
2. System Kaizen
This type of event arises when there are problems detected in the system framework. Issues related to system backlogs, inventory that hasn’t been organized yet because of its bulk, and work that is done without structure all fall into this category.
When problems like these arise at a workstation, the team gets together in order to devise a current state value stream map as well as a future state value stream map. The latter map allows the team to develop a plan that would improve the system in perhaps 3 months or 6 months' time.
3. Line Kaizen
In the simplest of terms, line kaizen involves inculcating lean techniques (lean manufacturing principles) in department processes including upstream and downstream processes such that a line is formed between the two.
For example, should the planning department of a company organize a line Kaizen Event, the procurement department could do so as well. And since planning is an upstream process and procurement is downstream, both departments end up being improved.
4. Plane Kaizen
A plane Kaizen Event, popularly known as value streams (a lean management method) is one where the company decides to forgo traditional departments in order to replace them with a structure involving product families (a group of products with similar processing steps).
5. Cube Kaizen
With cube kaizen, improvements are made upon several interconnected processes. Such an event leads to developments and enhancements throughout the company, thereby positively impacting not only the supply chain but the customers as well.
Steps involved in Planning a Kaizen Event
The sole purpose of organizing a Kaizen Event is identifying which areas of your business processes require improvement, especially in the long run. Is your company being efficient enough in all its approaches, and is it maintaining the quality and company standard? These are some of the things you have to consider while planning a Kaizen Event in order to make it a raging success.
- Settle the logistics of it all - Once you’ve decided upon all the goals you want to achieve through the event, the next natural step would be to finalize a venue, the dates for it, and which of your employees you would want to include in the event.
- Inform your employees - The success of the Kaizen Event entirely depends on how informed your employees are about its goings-on as they will play a key role in the implementation of the problems that need solving and the improvements that need to be made. So make sure they are kept abreast of all the necessary details.
- You need a team lead - To keep things direct, simple, and goal-oriented, you need to pick a team lead who will act in the best interests of the company. Usually, this person is a supervisor who recognizes the importance of the event and the positive impact it could have on the organization.
- Performance measurement is a must - Points to consider while planning the event would include the specificity and direction of improvements. Another thing you could do is gather data regarding the current level of performance in order to compare it with the data you would collect once the event is complete. Also, ensure that you have the basic structure of the event and how each day is going to pan out.
Running a Kaizen Event
There are a few essential points to keep in mind while the event is underway. The most important of which is to keep your employees interested and engaged throughout the 5 days. The team lead will be responsible for providing the necessary training and support to the rest of the team.
Although the event itself is organized by you, the management and the supervisor at large, it is incumbent upon you to let your employees come up with the suggestions for improvement and solutions for the problem at hand since they’re the ones who are closely involved in the workings of it all.
Here’s a compact walkthrough of what each day of the event should look like:
- Explain why the event is important. Creating Kaizen Events PPT would be ideal to start it off.
- Training on the 7 kinds of waste.
- Discuss the ways through which the current process could be improved upon.
- Set the tone for day 2
- This day is focused on the documentation and gathering of data.
- Allow employees to identify bottlenecks.
- Guide them in discovering the resources required in getting rid of said bottlenecks.
- Discuss possible avenues employees can explore in order to find solutions.
- Encourage the team to formulate a plan that will map a timeline for improvements that are both short and long term.
- Creating a visual map would work best in such a scenario.
- This day is dedicated to the implementation of the above plan.
- Remind the team that the plan should be implemented in a manner that impacts the operation in a minimalistic fashion.
- Encourage employees to create a ‘follow-up plan’ and a report that the management can look at.
- Asking the team to create an outline of everything they learned in the duration of the event will help with curating events in the future.
Examples of Kaizen Event
As mentioned earlier, Toyota had much to gain (for decades now) when Ohno decided to implement its principles as part of the Toyota Production System. And that is why Toyota stands to be a supreme example of Kaizen Events in manufacturing.
Ohno made full use of the kaizen process when he made it a point to check every little detail he could find on Toyota’s factory floors. He went above and beyond in asking assembly line workers a ton of questions so that he could find tiny but concealed processes that were the reason for waste accumulation.
When talking about Kaizen Events examples, one needn’t look far beyond what a supervisor might find when he’s doing his floor inspection rounds. Upon further inspection of specific equipment, he might conclude that it has a defect which would obviously result in a delay in the process. As such, he would choose to schedule a point Kaizen Event in order to resolve the issue.
All in all, when implemented in the right manner, Kaizen Events can not only improve business processes but workflows and standard operating procedures as well. This approach could make things seamless and easy for management as well as the entire company due to how streamlined and efficient it is.