In a previous post I explained what kaizen events are and ended it with some reservations. In this one I’ll explain why. I am no opponent to kaizen events, I simply point out the deviations I have witnessed.
kaizen events are quick actions performed in a very limited time, limited perimeter and focused targets. To achieve it, the group has to comply with the standard format.
Participants are rushing from one assigned task to the next, like remote-controlled by the moderator. There is little time and opportunity for participants to really understand, reflect and learn.
Therefore Kaizen benefits to managers solving problems in their area and moderators or kaizen office members for new scores but seldom benefits participants nor even the company, in the long run.
Why company seldom benefits from kaizen events?
First because the kaizen event is no good learning organization, as participants do not develop their own abilities to see problems and improvement potentials, design and carry out experiments to solve issues.
Kaizen event-driven activities keep depending on few champions to lead them.
No planned session means no improvement. People are not trained to improve by themselves nor entitled to do it outside the events.
Kaizen activities in general are welcome in a slowdown to keep paid people busy, but when business returns to normal, kaizen returns to low priority. Continuous improvement is understood as periodic improvement and performance is leaping from one level to the next according to events.
Kaizen events are focused to local problems. These local problems may be solved locally at the expense of some other area or process.
They lead to local optimizations which in sum cannot be the optimum for the whole system/company.
Put differently, kaizen events serve cherry picking independent problem solving, not always aligned with the Goal or really contributing to the organization’s Purpose.
In “Toyota Kata”, Mike Rother explains: “improvement workshop does not require any particular managerial approach. (../..) This may explain some of the popularity of workshops“. Further: “Since the workshop team moves on or is disbanded after a workshop ends, we have to expect that entropy will naturally begin eroding the gains that have been made.“
The fast pace of kaizen events is used to overcome resistance to change, yet systematically rushing to implement solutions is a mere top-down approach.
So-called participation is only about giving a hand, seldom the opportunity to truly participate, e.g. Express, analyze, understand, experiment, build, argue, buy-in, carry-out, and learn.
Some organization develop lean champions only and depend on them for any lean-kaizen activity. When those champions have enough experience and track record of achievements, they’ll sell themselves to another company, leaving the previous one without real legacy.
Who’s to blame then?
Related: What is Kaikaku?