PDCA: Plan Kaizen Events Using a Plan Do Check Act Cycle

Planning kaizen events using PDCA
Planning kaizen events using PDCA | Source

PDCA in Kaizen Events

A PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) cycle can be used to plan and execute a successful Kaizen event. This systematic approach to problem solving, when applied to Kaizen events, results in sustainable improvements to the work place. This article explains how a kaizen event can be conducted using the PDCA Cycle methodology in a focussed and effective manner so that sustainable results can be achieved. Four main areas of kaizen events will be discussed:

  • Definition – this section answers the question “what is a kaizen event?” and the PDCA Cycle
  • Planning for a kaizen event
  • Conducting kaizen events
  • Final presentation to management of the lean improvements that have been achieved during the kaizen event week

The PDCA Cycle
The PDCA Cycle | Source

Definition of kaizen events and PDCA

PDCA is an acronym that stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act and is a methodology that is used by many lean thinking firms as a problem-solving technique to continuously improve organizational metrics. It is a systematic, never-ending cycle of improvement that involves improvement and stabilization then more improvement in a virtuous circle. It captures the core meaning of kaizen which is continual improvement of all aspects of an organization, from human resources to operations, product development and customer service.

Kaizen Events are improvement activities that focus on one area of an organization using lean tools and are used as a means of training, getting buy-in and injecting momentum to a lax kaizen effort. These events are normally five day intensive activities where cross-functional teams attack major problems that afflict the organization and present results at the end of the week.

Never do point Kaizen

The events are supposed to be done with the overall kaizen strategy of the organization in mind. If this is not done, the event will lead to sub-optimization where problems that have no bearing on the overall system improvement are solved. The area where the kaizen improvement takes place will end up being an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. That is not the aim of kaizen events: improvement should be well coordinated system-wide. There are therefore advantages and disadvantage of holding kaizen events.

Benefits of holding Kaizen Events

The strengths of the events are:

  • They generate interest across the organization because they are in most cases supported by top management
  • Management are willing to give the necessary resources to make the events a success
  • The results oriented nature of the events ensures that there is tangible progress at the end of the week.
  • Members of staff who had not bought-in to the benefits of kaizen become convinced of the ability of the events to achieve remarkable results
  • A flailing lean improvement campaign will get a boost and impetus to take the organization to the next level
  • If performed systematically, the kaizen events may result in the solving of problems that were very difficult to solve before

Weaknesses in a Kaizen Event Strategy

There are a few disadvantages inherent in focussing solely on a kaizen event strategy:

  • Over-analysing of data can distract the workers from real improvements at the gemba
  • There is a risk of creating a clique of “experts” who run roughshod over the other members of staff by prescribing solutions to problems without involving them
  • There is a risk of a kaizen initiative sliding back if only a few individuals are involved at the expense of the whole organization
  • Simplistic interpretation of kaizen makes some in management to use it as a tool to solve problems frivolously and at times as a way of reducing staff numbers in order to achieve quick gains in cost-cutting

Planning for Kaizen Events

Before the actual kaizen event, which normally takes about a week, certain preparatory actions are carried out:

  • Gemba Selection: Identify a process that will benefit from a focussed lean improvement exercise. This is in most cases a process that is suffering from a myriad of long-standing problems and would benefit from focussed problem solving. If the problems within the process are successfully solved, it will serve as a benchmark for other areas of the organization
  • Define the Scope: Once a process is identified, the scope of the improvement activities must be clearly defined. For example, the event might decide to focus on productivity improvements or space reduction. The scope could also cover customer satisfaction issues such as delivery times and quality. It is always prudent to choose a narrowly defined course due to the limited time and resources available.
  • Set Goals: Determine what you want to achieve from the kaizen event. It may productivity improvement of a certain percent for example 60% productivity improvement. The event may also aim at attaining a floor space reduction of 30% or on-time delivery of 100%.
  • Select Team: A multi-functional team of different cadres is assembled. Some form of basic introductory training is carried out so as to get everybody on the same page. The importance of choosing a multifunctional team is to bring in outside expertise and experience to the kaizen event. This “outside eye” helps in giving a different perspective to the problem. Teams must also be a balanced mix of different cadres such as supervisors, managers and operators. Each team should have a leader, facilitator, sponsor and team members.

Other preparatory activities

  • Preparing a conference room where the presentations will take place. It should have plenty of space for everyone who will be present to work comfortably.
  • Collecting historical data that may be required such as data on stock-outs, delivery times, customer complaints, stock levels, rejects, stock values, order quantities and supplier issues
  • Equipment and materials such as markers, whiteboards, projectors, notepads, laptops and post-it pads
  • Communicate to all departments the dates and personnel who must be freed-up for the event
  • Transport, food and accommodation arrangement for any external consultants
  • Organize snacks and meals for the participants so that they will not have to leave the workshop

Conducting the actual event

A kaizen event, as stated earlier, is usually a five day event that starts on a Monday and ends on a Friday. The event is conducted using the PDCA Cycle in mind:

  • Day 1 (Monday): On the first day of the sponsor introduces the participants to the workshop. Participants are taken through a quick refresher course on lean manufacturing principles. Once this is over with, the participants go through the scopes and objectives of the event. This is the PLAN stage of the PDCA cycle and participants identify the problem and go the shop-floor to collect data.
  • Day 2 (Tuesday): The data collected is then analysed and possible solutions are identified. This is still part of the PLAN stage and participants must not jump to implementing solutions until all the data has been correctly collected and analysed.
  • Day 3 (Wednesday): After data has been collected, analysed and possible solutions identified, the event goes to the DO stage. Here, the teams try out the identified solutions. They then collect further data on the effects of the solutions.
  • Day 4 (Thursday): The teams continue collecting the data and implementing suggested solutions. After this, they come to the CHECK stage of the PDCA cycle where they verify the effectiveness of the solutions. If the solutions work, the implementation (DO) stage will begin. Implementation is not a one day event and must be scheduled to dates after the Kaizen event. In the event that the solutions are not workable, the process of PDCA starts over again. This means that unworkable solutions must never be implemented. Teams also start preparing their presentations for the final day. In most cases, one member of the team is given the duty to do the presentation while the rest of the teams continue with their work at the gemba.
  • Day 5 (Friday): The last day after long week of hard work at the shop-floor is for presentation of the work done to management and other colleagues. The presentation is done in a simple format called an “A3 Sheet” which covers all aspects of the PDCA cycle. In the presentation, the teams give a brief account of the process they used in solving the problems and the results of the process. Any activities that need to be done after the event must be clearly stated and allocated to team members.

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