Kaizen Week

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Developed by Davide Morbin

Abstract: With the increased use of lean thinking in recent years, many organizations are using Kaizen events to rapidly introduce change and to create a culture of continuous improvement. From a definition easily available in many articles or books that deal with this topic, Kaizen event is “a focused and structured improvement project, using a dedicated cross-functional team to improve a targeted work area, with specific goals, in an accelerated timeframe”. This methodology accelerates the Kaizen process in a segment of the production chain or a particular manufacturing cell, where the team is made by managers, engineers, maintenance workers, marketing and finance personnel and production operators. Typically, this event lasts from three to five days. Kaizen Week is a short-term improvement project that can be compared to a Kaizen event that lasts five working days. The scope of this article is to describe this kind of program, specifying how it works day by day and explaining its purpose as well as its implementation. Finally, the article will evaluate needs and limits on using this tool.


General description

The word “Kaizen” is the composition of two Japanese terms, “KAI” (change) and “ZEN” (better). Thus, “change for better” recalls the fundamental concept of continuous improvement from lean thinking. Kaizen events are often associated with lean production.[1] These events can bring substantial improvements in technical system outcomes, which may lead to great changes to the organization. Their most considerable purposes are to:

  • Increasing of effectiveness and efficiency in the processes
  • Improving visibility of the process
  • Improving morale, knowledge, skills and safety of the employees
  • Reducing delays and lead time
  • Improving work-in-process inventory and productivity
  • Searching time and dangerous conditions.

During a Kaizen Week, many different activities can be carried out. Among these, we can mention team training, documentation of the current state, identification of opportunities for improvement, improvement selection with implementation, results presentation and documentation of an action item list for follow-up activities.[2]

After this brief description, the article aims to establish the general guidelines for leading a Kaizen Week (KW) correctly and avoiding issues related to its implementation.


Once the intervention area is selected, the pursuing goals must be defined. These are mainly to organize actions to help the company achieving lead-time reduction, stock and space reduction, man operations reduction, production waste reduction and finally time of set-up reduction. All this must be done by considering some constraints. The basis of the event are the definition of a group work (10 people maximum), the nomination of the group’s leader, meeting of direction with the group work and planning the KW. The week must take place with active participation of the concerned department.

Operational preparation

Data collection is needed to take a picture of the current situation. This is done through the detection of the selected area with the study of its layout, the description of most relevant flows, the overview of standard work and standard operations and the evaluation about how much workload each operator have. After this, it is fundamental to arrange the material that will be required during the week, i.e. forms and various materials (e.g. stopwatch, pencils, glossies, cardboard, wood). Furthermore, the preparation of material for team member formation is also needed. Also, the meeting place of group must be determined, and a final meeting must be organized. This will be fundamental for the groups to present the work made. Finally, there is the drafting detail plan of KW activities, the week goals validation with team leaders and the announcement to selected people for the team on the working program.

Execution of Gemba Kaizen Week

"Gemba" is another Japanese term means “the real place” and it refers to the place where value is created. In this case, it is the operative place of work in the production department from Monday to Thursday. Everyday during the execution of KW, there are brief meetings at the beginning and at the end of the day to review activities and conclusions. Very important is also the final presentation of works and analysis of results on Friday.[3]

Follow Up

After the KW took place, the results obtained should be carefully studied. Passed 15-20 days, checking intervention will be implemented with next results consolidation evaluation. Finally, there will be the definition of a development plan. Here changes should be made for optimizing work process.[4]

Application day after day

An example of KW in a manufacturing process: following procedure is not strict, but a company may adapt it to its needs.[5]

Figure 1: Example of Kaizen Week Agenda

Day 1 – Orientation

As described above, the first day begins with many introductory activities, ending in the morning with the definition of a Kaizen charter worksheet. In addition to communication of the charter, participants should be trained and the process should be physically viewed. Through communication of the charter and a brief overview of the process, team members will be instructed on the objectives for the KW and their individual responsibilities in the process. The leadership should participate in the kickoff session to emphasize the importance of the event and grant authority to the team to make required changes. After launch, a member of group work creates a first draft of the Value Stream Mapping (VSM), a techniques that help to visualize work processes.[6] Elements of waste should be identified with measure of cycle and takt time, capture work sequence and determine optimum staff requirements. Process performance should be illustrated with time series charts, histograms and Pareto charts as necessary; finance personnel must participate to provide perspective on the business impact of the historical performance relative to the objectives. End the day by starting a “newspaper” with photos of the process before any change; this newspaper summarizes all the completed actions and findings in a format that is easy to assemble and access. Finally, set priorities for the activities of the second day.

Day 2 – Understand current situation

The second day begins with analyzation of the current state established the day before, estimating the quantify impact of waste identified. Elements of the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) metric should be decomposed to understand the losses in line capacity and identify important losses to be eliminated or reduced. Usually, activities of this day are:

  • Design an optimum flow
  • Establish effective operator sequences
  • Define measures and metrics
  • Optimize organization layout and implement it with support of tools and graphical analysis.

For identifying waste, they are used also team-based and problem solving tools e.g. brainstorming, cause-effect matrices, Spaghetti Charts and Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA).[7] The goal of this second day is to create a cycle time analysis, the identification and quantification of value-add versus non-value-add work, and the understanding of current standard work combinations. It also starts to identify solutions and prioritize opportunities for improvement, as well as begins the process of transferring knowledge to support culture change and reasons to embrace the new ways. Such as the others two following days, at the end of each afternoon it should be explained a brief report relating activities carried out during the day, before setting the objectives of next day.

Day 3 – Develop future state design

Important for mid-day of the week is to develop solutions to eliminate critical waste, develop new flow scenarios with new standard work combinations, prioritize changes, plan the implementation, create contingency plans and begin solution implementation. It is also necessary to create a future state VSM or process map for illustrating the changes impact visually. Improvements should always be biased toward simple and self-manageable solutions. Complicated or expensive solutions must be reviewed with management and finance to quantify the expected benefits. Proposed changes should also be reviewed with departments such as health and safety, and unions so time is not later wasted with approvals and enrollment. The team should begin implementing changes on this day in order to alleviate some of the burden for the fourth day. Newspaper updates should be prepared again.

Day 4 – Make the improvements

First of all the implement measures and metrics: it is a long day with intense focus on implementing the changes with minimal impact on the operation, documenting new process and standard work. Collection data is fundamental in order to understand the impact of the process changes and provide feedback for multiple iterations of minor changes to optimize the process. During this day, it is advisable apply 5S techniques when equipment is rearranged, cleaned and repaired. 5S method allows organizing a tidy and clean work place, through five activities identified with five Japanese words whose first letter is “S”: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, Shitsuke.[1]

Figure 2: Translation and meaning of the five “S” words.

Finally, the results are quantified with calculation of financial impact and actual benefits. All meetings on this day should take place on the production floor or process area. It is important that management is present at the end of the day to show support for new processes and discuss ways to sustain the changes.

Day 5 – Report and celebrate

At the last day of the working week occurs the launch of the new process and group work prepare a report based on the results achieved. Any final report should be a simple summary of the information already compiled in the Kaizen newspaper during the week. Significant activity is the assess benefits from new-old cycle time and other measures as appropriate: data collection plans and response plans should be in place to monitor performance and respond to problems over the next several weeks. Conduct lessons learnt review with stakeholders where it is explain what worked well and what did not. The intent is to capture best practices and learnings to be applied to future Kaizen events. Usually, during the lunch of last day there is a celebration of obtained results and recognition, where are involved senior leaders and employees. Recognition should be focused squarely on results achieved, not simply on having participated in an event.

Method Features

  • Focus on aims: all weeks must begin by presenting clear, quantifiable and ambitious goals to the work group. At the end of each day of KW, the group work must indicate clearly to what extent these goals have been achieved.
  • Physicality: all improvement activities must be carried out in the office. This is made by looking at the materials, operators, information and equipment. For example, production phases are improved by placing all material in order, according to the work sequence. Cycle times are improved trying several solutions by moving documents, equipment and operations.
  • Rigorousness: all activities have to be conducted and documented using the standard module developed for the week i.e. Spaghetti-Chart for operators flow analysis, Standard Work Sheet and Percent Load Chart for operations flow analysis, Kaizen Idea Board for representing improvement proposals, Kaizen News for indicating activities to complete after week and Target Sheet for representing achieved results day by day.
  • Involvement: all group components must present something during the meeting at the end of the week.[1]
  • Evaluation: assessments allow organizations to conduct comprehensive, regular reviews of improvement actions and emphasize the integration of current and future improvement initiatives. A scoring approach could be used for assessing the practices identified during the KW.[2]

Key points

  1. Flow Analysis. The general question is “how does product value flow along the process?” Several specific questions must be done for seeing the activities properly:
    • How do the materials flow through the process?
    • How do the operators move during the process?
    • How do the information and operations flow during the process?
    • How does the equipment flow during the process?
    • How does the quality flow during the process?
  2. Standardization. “Where there is no Standard there can be no Kaizen” Taiichi Ohno. It means that at the end of each KW, all activities subject of improvement must be standardized and for doing this, it is needed: look at the activities, identify several activities by standardize and standardize them.[1]
  3. Visual Management. The process standardization must be realized through visual and instant systems. Thus, the process can have a built-in quality and then could be a standard process. Example of some tools: billboard in the office for cycle time, layout and productive line roles. A visual Standard Work Sheet in each phase of the productive line and a physical place for everything.

The Kaizen weeks program does it must indicate not only the areas of intervention, but it must also define first of all the intervention guide and the final “vision” of the office or service concerned transformation, at least in terms of layout and flow for each product family.

Kaizen Program Support

The proper management of the group work is the most important action that is taken on during the week. It is of primary importance to train the team leader, especially during the first times KW is implemented. Usually, a consultant of lean management conducts a special training session for team leaders. It is recommended that all aspiring team leaders attend this preliminary training to prepare them for their future roles. The need of a consulting company has not negligible costs, but it is very important it is performed properly to get to successful conclusions.[4]

The KW is a technical method sometimes used for introducing the Toyota Production System (TPS) to the company. This first step allows understanding how to change the entire company, making it ‘lean’. In this case, the Kaizen Promotion Office (KPO) is of major importance: KPO is the body that assists various business sectors for applying the tools of TPS. What are the roles of KPO?

Figure 3: Muda examples
  • Analyze processes and locate Muda, Japanese word meaning “futility, uselessness, wastefulness”
  • Plan Muda elimination actions
  • Supervise Kaizen Weeks
  • Facilitate communication between ward activity and managerial goals, turned to cost reduction
  • Develop human resources in lean optics by providing an appropriate training theoretical and applied
  • Develop specialists of TPS and promote lean system.

Canalize the flow value is the absolute priority and it requires a drastic change on the corporate structure. KPO has a high-level role because he must maintain a continuous pressure for realizing revolutionary changes necessary to introduce the Toyota Production System. Usually, in this phase the training needed for a manager is to follow 12 Kaizen weeks in a year and to become a strong supporter of TPS![1] To implement TPS and to maintain KPO, the company has to make large investments and must bear significant costs for carrying on the change. Before making this important step, the entrepreneur or the top manager must be extremely convinced that lean philosophy will work. He must know that once the change begins, halt the process can lead to a gradual return to normality, losing all benefits achieved as well as the amount invested.

Operations with a mature Kaizen culture will design facilities to support the frequent process changes necessary to maintain optimal performance in a changing economic environment. Equipment has to be designed for mobility. This means power and air drops designed for quick reconfiguration, moveable lighting on tracks, elimination of walls, floors and pathways that are easy to clean. These are all examples of structural design components that can enable more efficient Kaizen execution.

Benefits & Limitations

As already described, Kaizen is a powerful tool for positive changes. The most relevant benefits are:

  • Empower employees, enrich the work experience and bring out the best in every person
  • Promote personal growth of employees and the company
  • Provide guidance from employees and serve as a barometer for leadership
  • Improve quality, safety, cost structures, delivery, environments, throughput and customer satisfaction

With proper planning, appropriate use of data and effective tool application, these events deliver significant results to process improvement and financial impact to businesses. KW is an effective tool for helping people learn about their own processes (what works, what does not work and what is possible) and for empowering them to effect change. These outcomes cannot be quantified financially, but they are an important foundation for a continuous improvement culture and a committed workforce that accepts responsibility for the performance of their processes. The priceless outcomes of Kaizen may well be more valuable to organization than the directly quantifiable process improvements.

As far as limitations are concerned, the application of this program depends how far the company’s management incorporates the “lean” model in the execution of its activities. A single Kaizen Week is certainly a strong signal for the potentiality of “lean” approach, but by itself is not sufficient for a true company transformation. Relevant results that could be obtained during a KW, may be lost if management do not keep the pressure high through the grip of what has already been achieved and the launch of others Kaizen weeks.[4] Kaizen events appear often to more rely on a top-down approach for improvement strategy implementation, where management selects the scope of individual KW.


As widely described in this article, organize a week of Kaizen is an optimal tool of program management that brings several benefits to the company. The improvements of a KW are not enormous, but it definitely helps to introduce relevant changes. In fact, the goal could be to create a better production and not to create the perfect production line. The goal for the future with the “continuous improvement” philosophy is to create the perfect one, but this is not the purpose of KW. Instead, it does accelerate the improvement process. It also unleashes the creativity of a group of people who are empowered to make changes. One advantage of squeezing all the activity into a single week is that it does not give the luxury to think of big, expensive solutions. The emphasis is on solutions that can be implemented quickly and help the company getting immediate reinforcement by getting immediate results. Thus, Kaizen Week remains an useful method used by forefront companies.[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Geoffrey L. Mika, “Kaizen Event Implementation Manual”
  2. 2.0 2.1 Eileen M. Van Aken, Jennifer A. Farris, Wiljeana J. Glover, Geert Letens, (2010) "A framework for designing, managing, and improving Kaizen event programs", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 59 Issue: 7, pp.641-667
  3. Masaaki Imai, “Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management”
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Wiljeana Jackson Glover, “Critical Success Factors for Sustaining Kaizen Event Outcomes”
  5. Robert Tripp, Chris Seider, Ulices Calderon, Mike Carnell, “A Plan for a Five-day Kaizen”, online article
  6. Quarterman Lee, Brad Snyder, “The Strategos Guide to Value Stream and Process Mapping”
  7. Mark R. Hamel, “Kaizen Event Fieldbook”, pp.137-142
  8. John H. Sheridan, “Kaizen Blitz”, online article

Annotated bibliography

® For further general information about the history of Lean production linked to Kaizen event, it is suggested: Geoffrey Mika “Kaizen – Event Implementation Manual” Fifth Edition – Society of Manufacturing Engineers, 2006

The first step to implementing kaizen in any organization is to provide training on the Toyota Production System (TPS). This book provides this training material and explains why the TPS tools, including kaizen, must work in tandem with a fresh way of thinking to bring about cultural change.

® For more information about the study consequential to Kaizen events, it is suggested: Wiljeana Jackson Glover “Critical Success Factors for Sustaining Kaizen Event Outcomes” – April 5, 2010 - Blacksburg, Virginia

The research is based on a study of 65 events, which allowed models development regarding the sustainability of Kaizen event outcomes. It highlights the literature review from which the analysis starts and explains the methods used with data collection for getting the results. These are widely analyzed and discussed on the article for finding when they are a reasonable sustainability outcome.

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