The 5-Day Kaizen | Bob Emiliani

Bob Emiliani
Bob Emiliani

“The classic 5-day kaizen was likely created in the late 1980s by Shingijutsu kaizen consultants from Japan as they established their practice in the United States and beyond. Traveling the long distance from Japan to the east coast of the U.S. meant that kaizen consultants should obviously spend more than a day or two at their client’s location before they then return home to Japan. It made sense to stay for a period of time in which many abnormalities could be corrected by facilitating several kaizen teams at one time. Five days seemed about right…”

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Michel Baudin‘s comments:

So the Kaizen Event craze started when the convenience of a Japanese consulting firm met American managers’ quest for instant gratification…

Bill Emiliani’s post is interesting because I was under the impression that the term “Kaizen Event” was a variation on “Kaizen Blitz,” introduced by the AME in 1994. As Tony Laraia, Pat Moody, and Doc Hall explain it in their book, some companies had tried to implement Lean by using circle activities; they were frustrated by slow progress, and came up with the Kaizen Blitz to speed things up.

US manufacturers latched on to it as a panacea, with the results we have seen. The method clearly has merits, but so do circles, suggestion systems, and others. Implementing Lean requires many projects, and many different ways of managing them. The content of each project should dictate how it is run, not the other way around! When pursuing SMED, for example, Kaizen events may work to prepare tool carts, but not to standardize the dimensions of 300 dies.

In the US, Lean implementation usually consist of covering the walls with Value-Stream Maps (VSMs) and running Kaizen events. Companies even set quantitative targets for the number of workshops per unit time. What I have seen happen, however, is that:

  1. Kaizen Events degenerate into a formal exercises.
  2. Improvements that don’t fit within the format just don’t get done.

It’s simplistic, it doesn’t work, and it’s not what Toyota does. Toyota only uses VSMs for specific supplier issues, and their improvement activities, organized under Jishuken, involve all sorts of different approaches depending on scope. The Kaizen event does have roots in Jishuken, but there is more to Jishuken than Kaizen events. Jishuken (自主研) means “autonomous study,” a surprising term as an umbrella for all improvement activities.

Since the 1950s, a professional society called J– USE (Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers) — a.k.a. Nikkagiren (日科技連) — has been organizing autonomous study groups about quality, by bringing together professionals from different, non-competing companies. They met monthly to hear members take turns in presenting on quality-related topics to the others. Today’s Meetups are similar in spirit. In the 1970s, Toyota started teaching TPS to suppliers, and organized autonomous study groups for this purpose but within a few years, they expanded in scope from just studying to proposing improvements and finally implementing them, the concentrated multi-day workshop being one method among many.

Incidentally, Kaizen Events actually do not provide instant gratification. Once you factor in the preparation before the 5-day workshop and the follow-up after, it is a 3-month project. As Carrie Fisher put it “Instant gratification takes too long.”

It is also possible to organize international consulting work differently. About the same time Shingijutsu went to Connecticut, I was working with Kei Abe at MTJ (Management & Technology Japan) in the US, Europe and Latin America, and our approach was to do whatever we thought was best for clients rather than impose a particular format for our convenience. We managed our travel schedule by milk runs through multiple clients in the same neighborhood. I learned Kaizen Events later, and found them a useful addition to our panoply of project management tools, but not a substitute for it.

#TPS, #jishuken, #kaizen, #kaizenevent, #kaizenblitz