Where Did the Kaizen Event Come From?

BY JON MILLER - 2014-05-29

Kaizen events were never meant to be a consulting method, but due to the ‘show’ value, they became a very popular but not totally accurate way to implement kaizen.

The kaizen event is a popular workshop format for implementing lean methods and systems. Many organizations achieve breakthrough improvements in one week or less using kaizen events. These results are sustainable when supported by a strategic transformation plan, a thorough preparation process and daily follow up after the kaizen event. Where did the kaizen event come from? This excerpt from chapter 2 of Creating a Kaizen Culture explains the origin of the kaizen event, and the role of Kaizen Institute in popularizing it.

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Where Did the Kaizen Event Come From?

The kaizen event, in its popular five-day format, is an American innovation on a Japanese process. People are surprised to learn that Toyota and virtually no other Japanese companies that practice kaizen use the five-day kaizen event or kaizen blitz format popularized in the West. How can this be? In the late 1980s when Masaaki Imai and his consulting team were demonstrating the kaizen process to American companies, it was convenient to organize the sessions as “two-day kaizens,” or intensive workshops (Imai 2012).

These kaizen events were not intended as the one correct way of doing kaizen but as a demonstration of the impact of kaizen. “These were one-week marketing events,” says Imai, recalling how kaizen events were introduced in the early 1980s. “After we had demonstrated the value of kaizen, we would go back and work with the management team to help them assess their current situation and develop a continuous-improvement strategy.

The kaizen events were never meant to be a consulting method, but due to the ‘show’ value, they became a very popular but not totally accurate way to implement kaizen.” At around the same time, the Japanese consulting firm Shingijutsu Company, Ltd., established by Taiichi Ohno’s students from among suppliers in the Toyota Autonomous Study Group, began delivering these one-week kaizen events to companies outside Japan. The term autonomous study is a direct translation of the Japanese word jishuken, which is another word used within Toyota to mean “kaizen workshop.” Often these are two- or three-day activities by a team of managers to deliver improvement through the application of a system such as kanban within a focused area.

The goal was both to advance the Toyota Production System in a specific location and to provide opportunities for managers to expand their understanding through hands-on learning. The Shingijutsu consulting team was taught by Taiichi Ohno based on this type of jishuken approach. Although these types of workshops of less than one week are practical within Toyota suppliers based in the Nagoya area, they are not practical for consultants traveling to the United States from Japan, so the full-week kaizen event was born.

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It is curious, but not unusual, that the customer or user of a product or service adapts it in ways that the designer of that product or service did not expect. This is one way that invention and innovation happens - by testing a minimum product with the customer and listening to actual customer feedback. We can say that the kaizen event is the result of the general kaizen process tested and adapted at the gemba to fit the needs of Western companies.

What other methods or approaches to kaizen have you found to be effective at your company?


 
 
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