Kaizen (Rapid Improvement Event)

Juran Blog, Knowledge

What is Kaizen?

In simple terms, kaizen is the Japanese term for daily improvement. For businesses and organizations wishing to get better, the term has come to mean “continuous improvement.”  

Kaizen continuous improvement refers to the enduring efforts to act upon the daily sporadic problems and to make refinements to processes to solve them. It started as a “work group” type activity where groups of people who naturally worked together would look for activities or groups of activities, within their span of control, to make work more effective and efficient. 

The word “kaizen” was then “Americanized” in the 1980s to “Quality in Daily Work”. It has since evolved into a more structured and focused improvement activity that is referred to as a “Rapid Improvement Event”. 

Implementing Kaizen

A structured approach to kaizen applies not only to quality but also to other parameters, e.g. productivity, cycle time, and safety. Addressing sporadic problems is best achieved through the use of kaizen root cause corrective actions. 

Kaizen was originally successful as an improvement method, as the people implementing it had a deep understanding of the process or processes that they were focusing on, and had access to data and other information pertinent to root cause analysis. They also had the authority to make many small changes without management approval and oversight. Basically, they were prepared to make these improvements and changes and had the empirical information to validate and verify them.

Kaizen has since evolved into kaizen Rapid Improvement Events (RIEs). RIEs take one to ten days to complete depending on the base knowledge of those involved. If they already have been trained in the lean kaizen tools and methods, the RIE can take four to five days to execute. Without that base knowledge there is a kaizen training requirement that can take two to four days (self-paced vs. instructor-led).

RIEs also require a planning period that takes place two to three weeks prior to the actual execution days. During that period a variety of activities takes place to prepare:

  • Create the RIE team and charter
  • Identify key metrics
  • Developing a value stream map
  • Data collection and waste identification

With this information in hand, the team can then complete the kaizen RIE over the next four to five days. These are full days where the team members are completely dedicated to the execution of this project. They complete a wide range of activities to include kaizen 5s, process analysis, developing immediate improvements, proving their validity and establishing fool proofing to ensure the process will not slip back to the previous state. They also develop a plan for the next few weeks to complete other improvements that can not be completed during this short period. They present these findings to the kaizen lean management team and gain their approval.

Issues Facing Kaizen Rapid Improvement Teams

There are a number of challenges that can occur when trying to implement and maintain kaizen rapid improvement events:

  • Making non-managerial staff feel it is their job to make improvements without leadership direction
  • Trying to make kaizen improvements that are too large in scope for the period of time to complete them
  • Embarking on the Kaizen/RIE without proper knowledge of the necessary kaizen training, tools and methods
  • Not having a clear understanding of root causes, which lead to not achieve lasting results
  • Not giving the Kaizen/RIE team the dedicated time to complete the activity
  • Management not allowing them to make changes after completing the Kaizen/RIE

Effective Kaizen Tools 

Kaizen uses the same seven basic quality improvement tools as Six Sigma (DMAIC) methodology:

  • Check sheets
  • Control charts
  • Process mapping
  • Pareto chart
  • Histogram
  • Cause-and-effect diagram (also known as the 5 Whys, “fishbone” or Ishikawa diagram)
  • Scatter diagram

Examples of Successful Kaizen

Some examples of how Juran has successfully used kaizen/RIEs to drive business improvement:

  • Food Processing – The recovery of a lost product during production, with an annual estimated impact of $500K. 
  • Food Processing – A reduction in product hold time, with an annual estimated impact of $160K.
  • Packaging – A reduction in equipment failures and down time, with an annual estimated impact of $30K.
  • Healthcare – A reduction in turnaround time from emergency department quick registration to first contact with a provider, with an annual estimated impact of $100K.
  • Banking – A reduction in account origination TAT and rework, with an annual estimated impact of $400K. 

Kaizen and rapid improvement events are a very popular and effective way to make kaizen continuous improvements. As with anything, those attempting them need to have the proper knowledge, authority and dedication to get them through to completion. 

For many corporations, these types of projects have become the main thrust of kaizen improvement efforts. The application of Six Sigma projects are being reserved for improvement opportunities that are complicated, data intensive and cross-functional crossing over many departments or regions. 

Visit the Juran Knowledge Base for more insight on kaizen and other quality improvement methods, or contact the team to find out how we can help you implement them into your organization.