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What is Kaizen, and is it different from a Kaizen Blitz?

The word Kaizen is comes from the Japanese words “Kai”, meaning change, and “Zen”, meaning better.  When combined Kaizen means “change for the better”.  In everyday language it really means continuous improvement in the way that work is conducted by progressively reducing waste and increasing added value.  Day-to-day improvement opportunities can be uncovered by the work teams and addressed right away.  The impact of each small daily change on its own is very small, and sometimes can’t be measured  The accumulated impact of many small improvements, day after day, has a “compound interest” effect of leading to noticeable improvement over time.  It supports the involvement of everyone in the organisation and supports frequent problem-solving behaviours.  In this context think of Kaizen as a verb – “doing” continuous improvement.

A Kaizen Blitz is a time-compressed improvement project, it only lasts for a short duration and has an emphasis on speed and implementation.  A Kaizen Blitz is an intensive team activity devoted to workplace and process improvement – it starts with a business problem just like a traditional Lean Six Sigma project, except a Kaizen Blitz will start-and-finish within a week (usually 3 to 5 days).  As with all Lean Six Sigma projects it will require a cross-functional team that is empowered to make, in a short time, changes that would otherwise take months to implement.  Participants are committed 100% for the duration of the event, and are committed to implement (and not just plan for) the change

A Kaizen Blitz will follow the 5 DMAIC steps of Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control

A Kaizen Blitz event will choose challenging improvement targets (“stretch goals”), such as a combination of the following:

  • Defects and Rework  ↓ 80%
  • Lead Time ↓ 40%
  • Output/worker (productivity)  ↑ 20%
  • Floor Space       ↓ 30%
  • Travel Distance ↓ 50%

Because a Kaizen Blitz achieves significant results in a short space of time, they can be an attractive option for implementing improvements.  They support a culture that has a sense of urgency, they energise and motivate the team members who participate, and they can support quick-wins in the early stages of a new Lean Six Sigma deployment.

A Kaizen Blitz is also known as:  Kaizen Event, Kaizen Workshop, Rapid Improvement Workshop, Lean Event, etc.  Called a “Work-Out” in GE

Can any project be run as a Kaizen Blitz?  Nearly always you have a choice……roughly 80% of the time a project can be run as either a Kaizen Blitz or as a traditional project that has regular team meetings over a number of months.  If a Lean Six Sigma project requires a lot of data analysis, or a lot of iteration and testing of improvement ideas, then in these cases a traditional project is your best option.