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Kaizen Deep Dive: How Do I Know Kaizen is The Right Project Approach?

The need for any improvement starts with a problem (or opportunity) in any given process. These many problems, big or small, cause waste, frustrations, clumsy processes, low productivity, and mistakes which all affect our employees and our customers. However, selecting what problems are worth going after, and then determining how we will improve can be more complicated than you might think!

The Problem and Scope

The first step in considering improvement of any kind is listing all the possibilities. In the thousands of teams we’ve worked with over the last 20 years, we’ve never been confronted with the challenges of having too few opportunities to choose from.

The basic screening for what opportunities float to the top as potential candidates, we can rely on the basic impact/resource grid to allow us to pick the candidates with the greatest potential impact for the lowest possible resources consumed. Then leaders in the organization might consider some less known criteria such as:

  • How closely does this opportunity align with the organizational goals?

  • Is it being addressed by another project elsewhere in the org?

  • Do our necessary resources have the bandwidth to effectively participate?

  • Is there a sequence that we should consider (e.g., don’t paint the floors now if new equipment is being installed in 2 months)

  • How is the level of support for this improvement from leadership and stakeholders?

When an opportunity gains merit by passing these initial screenings, one of the next decisions is to determine the improvement approach…will this be a 4-month team Root Cause Analysis project? A large multi-phase Redesign effort? Maybe a quick win? Or’s just right for a Kaizen Event (a.k.a Rapid Improvement Event).


Is Kaizen the Right Approach?

Let’s use what you know about the Cause and the Solution for a quick check!

There are indeed many different criteria for selecting a project and then for selecting the best project approach. It’s pretty easy to forget to calculate the “investment” made in projects unless is a big Capital Expenditure. As a matter of fact, it can be very difficult to find true Return on Investment (ROI) numbers for improvement projects because it’s just not that often tracked. That means that all of the time and resources invested should pay for itself and more when the improvement is implemented and sustained. We find that organizations are pretty good at tracking results (sometimes!) but not at the tracking the cost of the project.

But that’s a topic for another time. Let’s start the thought process, though early in the game, where it belongs! Let’s focus on the 3 types of opportunities that might be considered for a Kaizen or Rapid Improvement Event and we’ll clarify, with our quick guide, how to pick the right approach using two simple questions:

  • The Quick Win (a.k.a “Just Do It”)

  • Root Cause Analysis (DMAIC)

  • The Kaizen Event (Kaizen Blitz, Rapid Improvement Event)

Quick Win: This issue has a known cause and known solution. “The computer monitor at the check-in desk is cracked. We need to order a replacement monitor.”

This is a task to be assigned and scheduled.

Root Cause Analysis: This issue has an unknown or unverified root causes (there may be many!). And while there may be many ideas for solutions, a specific solution has not yet been determined. This is a good candidate for a Green Belt DMAIC project. 5-7 team members spend 20% of their time for 3 to 4 months to resolve.

Kaizen (RIE): This is a problem with a known cause and an undetermined solution. The timeline here shows that it’s not a quick in-and-out event. Done well, the cycle starts with the identification of opportunities and preparing the team, then the 4 weeks prior to the event is gathering all the necessary information and root cause evidence. This is so that the team can hit the ground running when it comes to the 2-5 day event to solidify and implement a solution. The follow up are all those tasks that make the improvement stick.

So our quick reference tool allows you to compare 3 common project approaches based upon these two criteria; Is the root cause known and verified? Is the solution pre-determined?

A known cause with an unknown solution is our sweet spot for a Kaizen!

If all signs are pointing to a Kaizen Rapid Improvement Event, you’re all ready to start planning! For a complete Facilitator’s Guide to running an great RIE, check out our RIE Facilitator Guide