Using Kaizen Events for Rapid Improvement

by Tom McBride

Partners for Creative Solutions, Inc.

Few improvement tools compare to kaizen events for achieving rapid positive change in an organization.  Named after the Japanese word for continuous improvement, these events use highly qualified teams to quickly attack and improve processes critical to an organization’s success.  Impressive results have been documented for a wide variety of businesses, including manufacturers like Freudenberg-NOK and Wiremold who have used kaizen events for a decade or more to support their lean manufacturing initiatives.


Kaizen events can be used to solve either simple or complex problems, but I prefer to reserve them for the select few areas where they can make a quick, positive impact on a company’s strategic goals.  The following steps are required to plan and support each event.

Establish the mission – Clearly document what the team is expected to accomplish, along with its scope, budget, deliverables, and timetable. 
Choose the team – Teams generally consist of 6-8 members that possess the best skills and knowledge for accomplishing the mission.  Include those who work in, or are familiar with the target area, but mix in appropriate expertise and outsiders to stimulate new thinking.  Appoint a leader, facilitator, and record-keeper. 
Executive sponsor – This team advisor can be the senior process owner or other executive that has a strong stake in the project’s success.
Preparation – Gathering meaningful information about the current process in advance will save valuable time during the event. 
Finding time for the event – Use of overtime, appropriate timing, and support from co-workers not involved in the event can ensure that customer commitments are met during and after the event. 
Running the event – First, provide any needed training on tools and techniques that will be used during the event.  Then, the team should proceed with an analysis of current conditions, followed by generation of ideas for improvement.  (For more detail, see “A Powerful Process for Eliminating Waste – Parts I and II” at  During a typical 2-5 day event, a team should implement as many improvements as possible and conclude with a short report to management.
Measuring gains – Set up simple measurements for monitoring performance of a few key outputs and providing quick feedback to process users.


Kaizen events are a powerful continuous improvement tool, and when used wisely they can quickly and dramatically improve an organization’s condition.