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Kaizen in action: Five intense days in one photo

A Kaizen event is packed with activity. For five straight days, participants apply their experience, expertise, analytical skills, creativity, and intuitive know-how. They stretch their view of what's possible, letting go of the familiar and often comfortable way of doing things. And they do all this in dialogue with co-workers, customers, other stakeholders, and neutral outsiders.

So much happens in a compressed frame of time that no single photo can convey everything. But the following picture comes close. It was taken on the fourth day (Thursday) of a five-day Kaizen event.

A One of three subgroups fine-tunes plans to develop informational materials and training sessions to support the improvements. The team leader has a flipchart on the floor (not seen in the photo), and she's documenting input from her two teammates.

B Kaizen facilitator Bill Demidovich makes fine-tune adjustments to the new process map based on input from team members.

C While finalizing the new process map, one of the Kaizen participants consults with a subgroup for clarification.

D The group on the right is working through the details of an especially complex part of the new process. They will report their findings to the whole group in order to build consensus.

E Stretching from the wall on the right and continuing on the left is a huge map of the current process. On the facing wall (B) is a much shorter map of the new approach. The team eliminated 101 steps and 295 days of delays from the process -- and it shows!
Improvement teams are streamlining their core processes -- reducing wait times, strengthening service to customers, and saving money.

POWERFUL AND PROVEN: These big results are due to Kaizen. The term is Japanese, meaning to break apart or change (kai) for the better (zen). It's the most powerful tool in the Lean tool box. Kaizen is a practice of choice among successful private-sector organizations, with a proven record of reducing waste, increasing efficiency, saving money, and increasing customer satisfaction.

KAIZEN IN ACTION: In a typical Kaizen event, team members meet for five straight days to overhaul a core work process. Their week begins with just-in-time training in the Kaizen methodology. Then they map out the current state of the process, analyzing every step to find all forms of waste: overprocessing, delays, loopbacks, handoffs, excessive inventory, defects, and so on. They use their findings to develop a new process that is simpler, faster, better, and more cost-effective. Action plans address all aspects of implementation, including training and communication.

THE KAIZEN TEAM: A Kaizen event brings together not only the people who do the work of the process, but also some of their representative customers and stakeholders along with objective outsiders who have no knowledge of the process. This builds important perspectives and fresh ideas into every event.

IMMEDIATE ACTION: Also with Kaizen, implementation of the improvements begins as soon as the team completes its week of work. There's nothing theoretical or hypothetical about Kaizen. It's all about real change. The efficiencies and savings start adding up right away.