Kaizen Events

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Kaizen events are intense bursts of improvement activity conducted by a team in their work area.  Many of the tools of Lean such as waste reduction, 5S, work balancing, standardised work etc are used in the event depending on the problems to be solved.

My first exposure to Kaizen was a significant moment for me in developing a passion for process improvement.  I worked for an automotive components company in Australia that supplied all the local car assembly plants.  Toyota wanted to assist us improve the effectiveness of the processes we used to produce their products, so they sent out some Toyota Production System experts from Japan to run a kaizen event.  Initially we were skeptical that they could make any improvements as we already had an experienced and well performing team in the target area.  By the end of the week long event, we were astounded by the improvements that the team had implemented with the guidance of the Japanese facilitators.  The team achieved significant improvements in productivity, quality, flexibility and reduced work in progress.  More importantly, the event had openned our eyes to all kinds of waste in our processes and gave us a structured approach for attacking the waste.


A kaizen event is generally run over a week with the focus on implementing many small step improvements. Examples of the benefits from this event are:-

  • Significant improvements implemented in a short space of time
  • Intensive burst of improvement activity builds a sense of urgency
  • Identification and elimination of waste in process
  • Workplace organization (5S)
  • Improved work flow through relayout of processes
  • Improved “standarised work” – safety, efficiency and quality
  • Problem solving and error proofing
  • Reduced changeover times
  • Improved inventory control
  • Visual management
  • Metrics to focus ongoing problem solving / improvement

Typical Agenda for 5 day event

Day 1

  • Training in lean concepts and techniques (involves work area team and the kaizen team)
  • Observation of work area and identification of wastes

Day 2

  • Value stream mapping of high level process steps
    • Current state with major wastes identified
    • Future state with improvements identified
    • Action plan to focus on improvements that can be completed in the week versus those with longer lead times
  • Communication session between the kaizen team and the work area team

Days 3 – 4

  • Divide into smaller groups for experimentation of process changes
  • Follow Plan Do Check Adjust cycle to validate changes
  • Communication session with work area team

Day 5

  • Develop standard work for changes made
  • Update action plan
  • Presentation to management and work area


  • A powerful team based approach to improvement
  • Emphasis is on making many improvements using the “Plan Do Check Adjust” cycle to test the changes
  • Buy in from the wider work group is critical so selection of the team and involvement of the wider group in testing changes is important
  • Having an experienced facilitator to develop and guide the team is useful
  • Value Stream Mapping is often used to plan improvements in an end to end process, with the implementation being done by a series of kaizen events.
  • Main focus is on eliminating waste and the right Lean tools for the job must be applied

More info

  • Learning to See by Mike Rother and John Shook, ISBN: 0-9667843-0-8 – Value Stream Mapping for manufacturing.
  • Mapping to See by John Shook and team, ISBN: 978-1-934109-16-8 – Value Stream Mapping for the office and services