Benefits of a Kaizen Event

These continuous improvement efforts can impact all areas of an organization.

In last month’s column, I focused on the importance of planning an effective Kaizen event.  The Kaizen philosophy is based on the ideas that everything can be improved, that small improvements can yield large results, and that incremental improvements should be made regularly. Many companies have embraced this philosophy and made quick but meaningful improvements in virtually all areas of their operation. This month, I will focus on how to start a Kaizen event, where Kaizens can be applied and the results that can be achieved.

Several occurrences can initiate a Kaizen event. Employee feedback is one of the most common. An employee may experience difficulty or frustration when performing a task and seek help. Another employee may offer a suggestion for something he or she would like to try to make a process easier or more consistent.

A “waste walk” can also lead to one or more Kaizen events. This is where a group of employees might literally walk through a process from start to finish or walk through a work area seeking out the “8 Wastes” (defects, overproduction, waiting, non-value-added processing, transportation, inventory, motion and employee under-utilization—which, incidentally, form a most appropriate acronym: downtime). Customer comments, requests or even complaints can also be addressed using the Kaizen technique. 

A Kaizen event can be employed in all areas of an organization, including administration, manufacturing, quality control, warehousing, shipping and receiving, maintenance, and service areas. Kaizens can also be used for many purposes, but some of the most common include:

• 5S efforts to improve the organization and effectiveness of a work area.

• Establishing a visual workplace in which various signals, signs, labels, color codes and other techniques are employed to communicate or clarify certain conditions.

• Total productive maintenance (TPM) efforts in which a machine operator gets involved in the machine maintenance process to increase uptime.

• Setup-time reduction efforts in which all steps involved in changing over a machine are reviewed and analyzed for the purpose of reducing machine downtime between jobs.

• Work review and development of best practices.

• Workplace safety reviews that identify potential safety hazards and develop immediate corrective actions.

• Poka-Yoke (another Japanese word that means “mistake-proofing”) efforts to develop tools or fixtures that reduce the chances of defective parts being produced. 

Here are some examples of Kaizen events I have been involved with recently:

• A process was reviewed and compared to a standard operating procedure (SOP). Significant discrepancies were found between the actual practices being employed and the SOP. For the most part, the actual practices were far more effective than those outlined in the SOP, so the SOP was updated and redistributed.

• An on-site environmental control unit was shut down following a power failure. It turned out that only a few employees knew how to restart the unit and no procedure for doing so could be found. A start-up procedure was developed, documented and physically attached to the unit so it could be easily found the next time it 
was needed.

• Many pipes were connected to a chemical processing machine. Operators were sometimes confused about what was contained in each of the pipes as well as about the direction of flow in each pipe. During a Kaizen event, all pipes were clearly labeled to show both the contents and the direction of flow.

• Customer orders were received by email (majority), fax (significant percentage) and regular mail (very small percentage). Emailed orders seemed to get processed faster, as they were easier to enter into the company’s computer system, while faxed and mailed orders sat in a queue, sometimes for days. During the Kaizen event, it was determined that the faxed orders could be kept in an electronic format and sent to the email “mailbox.” Now, the vast majority of customer orders received are processed faster.

• A shipping process was reviewed, and it was determined the shipping employee was spending an excessive amount of time walking around within the shipping area because of the location of the required resources and equipment. During a Kaizen event, the packing bench, scale, computer, printers, carton storage rack and incoming staging area were all rearranged to improve workflow. The amount of walking required in the area was reduced by 80 percent.

• In a multi-shift operation, communication between shift leaders was sometimes lacking. This often led to some tasks being completed twice, while others were not completed at all. A checklist of all key activities was developed for use by the shift leaders at the conclusion of their shifts. Upon completion, the checklist is posted in a visible location in the plant, and shift-to-shift handoff is much more effective.

The short duration and narrow focus of a Kaizen event makes it an ideal tool for supporting continuous improvement in today’s fast-paced organizations.