Many organizations begin their Lean transformations with Kaizen event-type improvement activities, carefully planned and executed with a management mandate to achieve specific short-term targets. Employees who participate in the events learn by doing as they are drawn into a step change work improvement process. Particularly in larger organizations, this approach to introducing Lean concepts and methods is an effective way to garner and engage project resources.
Too often, however, the step gains achieved in events are not sustained. Post-activity homework is not completed, and many small problems arise as the new process is exercised. The system reverts to its previous behavior when stressed, and employees revert to old practices that are less productive but more familiar.
Rapid improvement events can be effective as proofs of concept, but they are not as effective at engaging the employees that must carry them forward. While ten to twenty percent of employees – those involved in the events – may be struggling to practice new methods, the balance of employees continue with old practices. Further, employees who are not directly involved in the events typically feel like objects of the change, creating pushback. Rather than developing employee understanding and skills, event Kaizen can, by itself, create retrenchment.
The solution to this problem lies in a planned transition from event-type “batch” Kaizen to “one-by-one” Kaizen – many small changes for the better. The goal of this “everybody everyday” approach is to create an entire organization of change agents and process owners who think of Kaizen as part of their work rather than apart from their work.