A Kaizen Roadmap

A Simple Roadmap for
Kaizen Events

Have you ever faced a problem that you had trouble solving? Or maybe you wanted to change things up, but you just weren’t sure how to do it?

There’s no shame in feeling a bit stuck, though it might feel unpleasant. When we’re stuck, we experience tension and friction, both internally and with our peers. Yet, those unpleasant feelings can signal an opportunity for growth. And a kaizen event is one way to take advantage of that opportunity.

Kaizen is a Japanese term that means “improve,” with “kai” meaning “change” and “zen” meaning “good.” Kaizen events embody the notion that change is in fact a good thing, as making the right change can enhance the performance of teams and their processes.

“Essentially, it can jumpstart growth and innovation within your organization, solving both small and large problems.”

What does a kaizen event look like? It’s a focused process improvement event that can last 1–5 days where a team identifies solutions to a problem, develops an improvement plan, and immediately starts implementing the plan. Essentially, it can jumpstart growth and innovation within your organization, solving both small and large problems.

When I describe kaizen events to my clients, they’re typically intrigued—and a little skeptical. Their concerns are valid and typically revolve around the investment into holding a really good kaizen event. Dedicating your best people’s time, energy, and attention for five days can seem a little crazy. Yet, with the proper preparation and understanding of what implementing the change can mean for you and your organization, those days can be well worth the investment.

Keep reading for some best practices to help you prepare for your own kaizen event.

Cultivate sponsorship.

If you want to hold a kaizen event, you’ll need to invest time and resources. That means your organization needs high-level sponsorship and buy-in from leadership and key stakeholders. The ideal high-level sponsor publicly supports the kaizen event as a vehicle for fostering growth and innovation for the organization. Some tactics for showing public support include kicking off the event with a brief speech and monitoring the team’s progress during and after the event.

If you’re a kaizen event sponsor (or you’re recruiting sponsors), make sure you can articulate the answers to three key questions:

  1. Why is the event important?
  2. How does the event help further the organization’s strategic goals?
  3. What is the scope of the problem that the event addresses?

Create a charter.

A charter is a helpful tool for articulating and outlining the what and the why of your kaizen event. You can use your charter for onboarding team members and key stakeholders to the event, explaining the event to the larger organization, and getting everyone on the same page.

The best kaizen event charters include the following:

  • Problem statement that clearly summarizes the problem
  • Business case that demonstrates the link between the event and the organization’s strategy
  • Benefits of completing the improvement (e.g., reducing product variability or shortening process time)
  • Goal statement that defines what success looks like for the kaizen event

Build your team.

People are at the heart of the kaizen event. To build the right team to participate, identify every business area impacted by the problem the event will address. (Remember the charter? Your problem statement should guide this step.) Then, select a subject-matter expert to represent each area that you identified.

Here are three tried-and-true practices for building a kaizen event team:

  1. Aim for a team size of 5–12 people. You’ll have enough representation across the organization for good discussions, and you’ll have an easier time facilitating the event and keeping things moving. You can always reach out to others during the event as needed.
  2. Ensure equal representation from stakeholder groups, and monitor groups so that one group doesn’t monopolize the event.
  3. Make sure all impacted groups are represented. The worst thing that could happen is that the day of the event you realize you don’t have someone representing a key area.

Make a timeline.

To stay on track of things, identify your milestones and map out when you’d like to reach each one. Note that you may need to spend time conducting interviews, analyzing data, and documenting the current state of things before you jump into a kaizen event. Check out the example to see what your timeline might look like.
Timeline leading up to and following a Kaizen Event.

Define current-state process.

This is a big step, but it doesn’t have to be tricky. You’ll want to map the process activities of each group involved in the kaizen event to create an end-to-end process map with swim lanes. See, each role has their own “lane” of activities they perform related to the process. After you conduct interviews and gather and analyze data, you can use this information to clarify the interaction across roles and the process steps performed by each role. Also, consider identifying the inputs and outputs to the process; for example, the information or materials used to start the process, and the final product or service created by the process.

Putting it all together.

Every kaizen roadmap is unique and customized to your problem and your organization. Yet, there are some best practices you can follow to keep your event running smoothly so that your people can worry less and innovate more. That includes cultivating high-level sponsorship; creating a charter; building the right team; making a timeline; and defining the current state (so that you know what you’re working with).

Once you’re able to review the current-state process, you can host a kaizen event where you’ll identify process issues and root causes, brainstorm and identify potential solutions, and build and develop the future-state process to begin implementation.

After innovating and growing together, you should walk away with an implementation plan that everyone is aligned to and understands. You will already have started implementing items and have a plan for how to implement the others. That means your people are working together to make the future state a reality. Don’t forget to take time to celebrate and recognize everyone’s contributions to reaching your goal!

Interested in hearing stories of successful kaizen events? Ready to explore hosting your own? Let’s talk. Give us a call at (859) 415-1000 or drop us a line in the form at the bottom of this page.

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