We have spent some time discussing the impact that lean can have on healthcare organizations, what it means to create a lean culture, and understanding the lean principles… now it is time to start talking about ways to get lean! There are many ways that organizations can implement lean and sustain a lean management system. Today we are going to start with one… kaizen events! All people in a lean organization must learn every day and gain knowledge by working to improve the business. This concept is known as kaizen which means incremental and continuous improvement. Kaizen is a Japanese term for “improvement”. When applied to the workplace, Kaizen refers to activities that continuously improve all functions and processes. There are two things to remember as we discuss improvement and solving problems:
- To generate improvement, you have to solve problems
- To solve problems, you have to learn something you didn’t know before
Kaizen is part action plan and part philosophy. If you think about this as an action plan, then Kaizen is about organizing events on improving specific areas. If you think about this as a philosophy, then kaizen is about building a culture where all employees are engaged in suggesting and implementing improvement.
So what exactly is a kaizen event? A kaizen event is a focused, short-term project to improve a process. Kaizen events help with the following:
- Excellent way to formalize some simple improvement activities that are not always run in an optimal format
- Avoids the stigma of a formalized project that may be drawn out over several weeks or months.
- Provides just-in-time process improvements
Let’s look at some frequently asked questions about kaizen events:
Q. How long should a kaizen event last?
A. The usual kaizen event takes 2 to 10 days. Remember, this should be treated as a focused, short-term project with the goal of improving something. The goal of such an event is not to solve everything. Setting those expectations will only lead to disappointment and the feeling of failure. Instead, the goal is to solve or improve a specific problem that can add the most value to the customer and hopefully have a positive rippling affect. This also goes hand in hand with one of the group rules of lean… conduct improvements incrementally. Don’t try to fix everything at once or it can be overwhelming and you can be setting yourself up for failure.
Q. What are the step’s involved with a kaizen event?
A. Below shows the 10 step process for conducting successful kaizen events:
- Define the problem
- Document the current situation
- Visualize the current situation
- Define measurement targets
- Brainstorm solutions to the problem
- Develop Kaizen plan
- Implement plan
- Measure, record and compare results to targets
- Prepare summary documents
- Create short term action plan, on-going standards and sustaining plan
Q. Why are some organizations reluctant to use kaizen events?
A. Some organizations are reluctant to use kaizen events because they feel that such events take a team of employees away from their “real jobs”, even if for a short period of time. I would argue that these organizations should look at this differently. Kaizen events can be a fantastic means to improvement. A properly planned and executed kaizen event will pay for the perceived loss of time many times over. A successful kaizen event can help the staff’s “real job” become easier. Since kaizen events address many of the day-to-day problems with permanent solutions instead of Band-Aids, one’s day can now include less fighting fires and include more productive activities.
Q. Who should lead a Kaizen event?
A. The kaizen event needs to be facilitated by an individual who has good people skills, excellent team work capabilities, quick conflict resolution skills and in-depth negotiating skills
Q. When should kaizen events be used?
A. You can use a kaizen event to improve almost anything. For example, kaizen events can work great when organizing the workplace using the 5’s, looking at how to remove waste from a process, or looking at how to reduce lead times. The trick to a successful event is good leadership and careful planning. Failure to provide either can lead to an event where the team is confused and do not understand what is trying to be accomplished. Planning the kaizen event is extremely important. You need to define exactly what it is you hope to achieve… the purpose and objective should be clear. And remember… do not let the event get too broad or last too long.
In conclusion, Kaizen events can be very effective and very powerful. Kaizen and other lean tools are for continual use as part of an overall drive toward perfection. Conduct kaizen events before it is too late… don’t wait until a crisis occurs. Instead, look at how to improve things now in order to avoid the crisis that could occur if ignored. It really is all about continuous improvement and this is just one of many ways to get lean.