Thursday, August 19, 2010
In Defense of Kaizen Events
Over the past several years, I have encountered a growing negative view towards kaizen events, continuous improvement events, rapid improvement events, kaizen blitz or any other name we assign to a typical week long, team based improvement activity. I have been told by one company executive “That kaizen events are too expensive and the results are not sustainable.” I have heard from many different people that “Kaizen events are just a way for consultants to make quick and easy money.” The negative comments go on as one senior company executive told me that “Kaizen events are a sign of immaturity on the lean journey.”
In reflection, all these comments about kaizen events may indeed be true depending on the circumstances. I have seen kaizen events which are expensive along with a high amount of backsliding from the initial results. Certainly, there are many lean consultants and practitioners out there that use kaizen events as their primary (only) method of getting process improvements. But the comment that had the most impact to me was the last one, kaizen events are a sign of immaturity.
As an infant straight from the womb, our single source of nourishment was milk. In the beginning, that is all we need and the only thing we could digest. Eagerly, we suckle the warm milk and we begin to grow. As our bodies grow and mature, we soon need more than just milk. Our diet starts to change. First we move to soft foods which satisfy our new needs. After a short time, our development continues and we have greater needs. Slowly we add solid food. Before we know it, we have a complete diet.
Much like milk, kaizen events are the sole source of our nourishment as begin our lean journey. It is all we need and we are not ready to consume anything else. The main purpose of a kaizen event is to grow and develop people. To help us practice observing, solving problems and experimenting in a high energy, fast paced environment. Events are great team building experiences. Kaizen events should engage people to improve, a chance to experiment and fail, to learn from our mistakes and to hone our thinking skills. Ultimately, we begin owning the improvement process, growing and maturing as we add more to our lean diet.
If all we feed ourselves is milk, we will restrict our growth and development. As lean leaders, if all we teach others is to warm milk, what results would you expect? The key is add to our diet as we need it and can digest it; going from milk directly to solid food will not work and may cause harm. Adding to our diet as we grow and mature does not mean that we completely abandon drinking milk either as some may suggest. The nourishment found in milk does not change.