Leading Lean Kaizen Improvements

By William “Wes” Waldo and Tom Jones

Lean is an improvement philosophy that strives to eliminate waste and non-value-added activity. Often implemented through a series of Kaizen improvement events, Lean has the power to transform an organization by increasing agility and focusing on what the customer’s definition of value is.

Leading a Lean Kaizen event using the SCORE methodology is a significant opportunity to make demonstrative organizational improvement in a relatively short time. Lead-times reduced by 85 percent, safety-compromising incidents reduced by 99 percent and capital expenditure reduced by 75 percent are all results achieved by organizations employing Lean Kaizen.

However, leading a Lean Kaizen event is also a significant commitment in terms of time, resources and abilities, so it is critical to have all the tools available to you that will make your event a success.

An Introduction to Kaizen

The various definitions and terms applied to Kaizen can make it seem confusing, though its premise is straightforward. Furthermore, whichever term, objective or tool used, the process of executing successful Kaizen events can be repeatable.

Sometimes known as “rapid improvement,” kaizen means “change for the better” in Japanese. Its essence is that change is good and good change is better. By this definition, anything a company does to make itself stronger is a Kaizen, and anyone who leads a Kaizen event in a company is a force for good change.

Kaizen is a component of Lean, the methodology that seeks to eliminate waste and increase efficiency. As such, it is designed to break down the project mentality of the organization and create a bias toward action. A Kaizen event is planned and structured and enables a group of associates to improve some aspect of their business quickly.

Kaizen is adaptable to individual needs and many varieties of Kaizen events exist. For example, a “flow Kaizen” seeks to make improvements throughout the entire value stream and is typically led by a senior manager with responsibility for the entire process. On the other hand, a “point Kaizen” addresses a particular aspect in the value stream that requires improvement and is typically led by a frontline associate who knows the area intrinsically.

Kaizen is adaptable to individual needs.

Kaizen events are often referred to by the type of Lean tool that is most likely to dominate the team’s activities. For example, if a Kaizen event focuses on eliminating a particular error, the program might be known as a “mistake-proofing Kaizen event.”

Know the Score

SCORE is one of the most successful methods for executing Kaizen events. It is designed to support the focal points of Lean, which are principally creating flow, implementing pull and improving the way in which an organization creates value. It is important to note that the quest for improvement is, by its nature, ongoing so SCORE must be used on a repeat basis.

SCORE is a five-step methodology that provides the framework for managing and executing successful Kaizen events. Its five phases run in sequence and feed each other. They are:

Select—This is the stage at which the Kaizen event leader must select the process or processes in need of improvement. They must also determine who internally will be affected by the change, who should be involved in making it and how changes will affect customers. “Select” also refers to choosing the tools and methods to address different performance issues.

Clarify—Here, the event leader must clarify the problem statement and the project objective. They should measure historical data to quantify current capability, including performance and waste. This is also the stage at which the Kaizen event team is confirmed and the members agree on what the program entails so that they can communicate it to others consistently.

Organize—The team members should now be organized and trained on the methods and scope of the project. This is also a phase of preparation in terms of the workplace, its suppliers, customers, facilities and people, and constitutes the final stage before actual implementation.

Run—This fourth stage is when the actual improvement event is executed, typically lasting up to five days. This entails making observations, brainstorming and selecting improvements, and testing and implementing them.

Evaluate—The concluding stage of the methodology, this is the point at which the Kaizen event team can evaluate the results and see the benefits achieved so far. This information is also important as feedback for standardizing new procedures, measuring return on investment and defining future work.

Getting Started

Before embarking on a Lean Kaizen event, the key is to remain vigilant and patient as you learn how to conduct new methodologies for business improvement. With experience, Lean Kaizen becomes second nature and entrenched in all you do.

With experience, Lean Kaizen becomes second nature.

As a general guide, successful Lean Kaizen events executed using the SCORE methodology depend upon three principles. First, they require thorough advanced planning. The devil is in the detail and, as a fast-paced initiative, a Lean Kaizen event leaves little time for major adjustments once it is underway.

Second, successful change events require learning. This includes training in and knowledge of various Lean tools and techniques. Team members should be educated on the basic principles and how to apply them in their day-to-day lives. In addition, team members should be familiar with the basic SCORE event execution process.

Finally, a successful event requires effective change management. While some people are born leaders, others can learn how to manage change. Aside from the technical and mechanical knowledge required, your ability, as event leader, to lead and motivate people and keep them on track tactically, will be the determining factor in your success.

William “Wes” Waldo is the former COO and President, Americas at the Lean Methods Group. Tom Jones is a former senior client partner with the Lean Methods Group. They are co-authors of A Team Leader’s Guide to Lean Kaizen Events, from which this article was extracted.