4 Reasons Why Kaizen Events Don’t Benefit Your Lean Efforts


The Contradiction

A lean training simulation followed by value stream analysis which culminates in some kaizen events has been the traditional implementation model for lean. Industry Week reported in a recent survey that 98% of all companies that have attempted lean did not experience the expected benefits. Toyota has been hiding the reason for these failures in plain sight for over 60 years and only within the past few has part of the enigma been lifted.

A kaizen event might not mean what you think it means.

First and foremost, “kaizen event” is an American construction not practiced by Toyota. In fact, kaikaiku and jishuken were implementation devices practiced by Shingeo Shingo on Toyota’s supply chain, not by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota. It is true that Shingo used rapid improvement to implement the tools of lean at Toyota’s suppliers, but that never guaranteed that Mini Toyota’s were being developed. Secondly, the definition of kaizen has wide acceptance as meaning incremental continuous improvement, or, daily improvement. Since an event is not continuous or daily the Americanized term “kaizen event” is a definite oxymoron.

Your implementation tools may not be serving their intended purpose.

So what is Toyota’s secret sauce? Toyota has opened many plants across the world and seems to be successful in maintaining levels of productivity and quality similar to those in its Japanese operations. After speaking with numerous managers from Toyota’s American operations, a common thread turns out to be the use of A3. These managers were introduced to and encouraged to use A3 in solving problems.

So we all need to start using A3’s amongst management’s ranks – right? Not so fast. A little insight is in order. Please recall that A3’s are a graphical representations of the PDCA cycle, or plan-do-check-act.

Your goals likely differ from those of Toyota (…as should your Lean implementation).

To be clear, the standardization of the PDCA cycle within management’s ranks is the key, not necessarily A3 in and of itself. It’s also important to realize that I mentioned “problem solving” in the paragraph above. A new Toyota plant comes with all of Toyota’s years of experimentation and improvement built in. Problems are really all that are left for managers to grapple with, they aren’t having to implement the lean tools (SMED, TPM, 5S, Cellular, Kanban etc.) that a company new to lean must develop on its own. Toyota managers do, however, need to solve problems that are unique to that locale.

One last point on A3’s. They are a visual management tool to be used by small groups. If the PDCA cycle is inculcated into an individual manager’s mind and s/he is working on their own, there’s no real reason to use an A3.

You’re focused on solving problems when you should be focused on daily improvement.

I’ve always said – and truly believe – you can’t problem solve your way into productivity and quality. If you try, you’ll find yourself playing an endless game of Whack-A-Mole®. You can, however, improve your way into productivity and quality.


The Solution

In order to facilitate the behavioral adaptability in managers which is required for standardizing improvement, managers must practice daily improvement following the PDCA pattern. If you can have your managers’ practice PDCA improvement for a short duration (15 minutes) on a daily basis, you are then truly practicing kaizen. You can then selectively and strategically apply the power of the kaizen event at the right time, in the right place, for the right results – without experiencing “implementation backslide.”

If you can accomplish this, you will have built the foundation for the ultimate and continuous transformation (read improvement) within your organization. By the way, you will have started using what is now one of the hottest trends in lean. You will be practicing the Toyota Kata.


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