Learning Kaizen

Learn to be thorough before working on speed. The speed will come naturally with competence.

Every coach in the world gives some form of this advice to her students. This is true for athletics, for music, for any skill we are trying to develop.

Yet when planning kaizen events, we tend to forgo this advice, and push the team to produce huge “results” for the Friday report-out.

Getting those results is actually pretty easy. Any facilitator with a little bit of experience with the tools can push the team to rearrange a layout, get some basic flow, and turn in some really good numbers in a few days.

But what skills has the team developed in this process?

Maybe how to see a similar opportunity and copy the layout there.

Maybe how to close out an action item list, but that is still just rote implementation.

What processes and systems have to be in place to sustain those results? What skills are needed to use those processes and systems effectively. When, during the course of these five days, did your team practice those skills, or for that matter, even learn what they need to learn?

4 Replies to “Learning Kaizen”

  1. One of the slides we use when training Kaizen teams says, “A Kaizen is not successful if it has simply made improvements, but only if it has taught the participants how to make the improvements.” Good words to live by.


  2. This week we closed a 7 months patient experience improvement initiative, where we had a team work every week on multiple cycles of improvement. We asked the participants what they learned throughout the initiative and they were able to describe enthusiastically the whole improvement model and how they plan on applying it back in their units on a day to day basis.
    This was a big contrast from the learning I used to hear when I used to run kaizen events.
    From my perspective the concept of improvement event is flawed as it inherently creates the impression that improvement is not “business as usual”, reinforce the magic pill belief (let’s do a kaizen event to fix…) and get the team emotionality attached to the solution and focused on compliance vs. on going process improvement. And as far as learning is concerned I agree with you, team mainly learn how to provide ideas and follow the facilitator instructions.

    I have always wondered what’s the origin of kaizen events and the secret of its widespread use!!!

  3. I’d go out on a limb and state that the Kaizen “event” is a consulting business thing designed to keep consultants gainfully employed.

    If you look at Kaizen as a continuous improvement philosophy – as Toyota employs it – that would never work for a consulting company.

    1. Tom –
      I used to think the same thing, but I have tempered my view a bit.
      Toyota does things that look like “events” but they are designed as training vehicles for the participants vs. implementation vehicles.
      So that is one valid purpose – to teach team leaders, supervisors, etc. how to rapidly solve the kinds of problems that come up on a daily basis.

      The other valid use is SOME of the implementation. I think it is necessary to keep in mind that most companies need to make some pretty major shifts to even put the fundamental structures into place. Toyota doesn’t have to do that anymore. Thus, there is a need for bringing the RIGHT people together, with the RIGHT leadership, and working on some of those major shifts, at least in the beginning. This gives them a chance to get it right with some kind of guidance.

      The problem out there is that most kaizen events are focused too much on implementation, and there is no background (or sometimes even knowledge) about the shift in daily management, or the skills that must be acquired and practiced, for those results to sustain.

      The goal for the consultant here is to make sure s/he is working the client toward this vision of a culture shift that does not rely on events to sustain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.