The REAL method of Kaizen consists of: Research, Engage, Act, Learn. Let me break this down so you can see what this means.
Nothing happens without research. Early in my career, I read every Lean book, pamphlet, and guide I could get my hands on. This was critical to understanding what Lean was all about. When I was first introduced to Kaizen, I did the same thing, and realized it was full of things I was already doing to help fix a process, just better organized into an shortened event. The research I did in those early years helped define my approach to leading future Kaizen events. The Research phase is when the problem is identified and all the event preparation happens. Likely, the longer your event will be, the more research and preparation will go into it. The idea is to try to cover every possible scenario of how the event will go long before it begins.
Identifying the problem itself can be challenging. There are a number of things you can look for to help you determine what the problem really is, however, take caution in identifying only symptoms of the problem. If you focus on just the symptoms, you might miss the real problem. Kaizen events typically have an organizational structure to them that includes management review, how they impact internal and external customers, who is qualified to lead, etc. But these steps are often reserved for larger organizations who have teams of Operational Excellence people working in these positions full time. Many smaller companies however, don’t usually have the budget to support these positions, and try to accomplish improvements on their own. It will be up to you, the individual, who with a little knowledge and Research, can make a very big and positive impact on your organization.
In the Engage phase of a Kaizen event, this is where you communicate as much as you can, to as many people as you can. This step in the process of a Kaizen event will help you garner support for the event from the members of the department or area you are going to focus the event on, your peers, support elements, and management. Not enough can be said about communication and support when it comes to Kaizen. Before your event can even get off the ground, it is imperative you have support from your Supervisor, the Supervisor of the department where the event will happen, and key members of management. This phase also includes the development of your event team. Deciding who to invite as a part of your Kaizen team is another important aspect of a Kaizen event.
This phase of REAL Kaizen covers the event itself. This is when the physical work happens. During this phase, you will use Value Stream Mapping and Flowcharts, hold Brainstorming Sessions, set up a 5S Program, analyze data, and learn valuable leadership skills in the process. Here you will discover how best to use all the tools available in the Kaizen tool kit. Also a part of this phase is the important design of metrics and how to follow-up. Here you will learn what metrics are best to use to ensure all the improvements you made can be sustained.
The Learn phase is the reflection part of the event, designed just for you, the leader of Kaizen. As a new change agent in your organization, it is sometimes hard to judge just how well you led the last event. Sure, the numbers look good, the results are outstanding, morale is higher, and the GM is happy… but what exactly just happened? These events go by so fast that when they are over, it’s hard not to just relax and kick back for a few days, right? I know – I’ve been there, and I know they can take a toll on you both physically and mentally. And that’s okay. It’s a sign you worked hard to get to that point. But now it’s time to reflect a little.
Never stop learning. Take some time after your next event to reflect on what did, and did not, work. It is important to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes so the next time you lead an event, it will go even better. I will show you some exercises that will help you gauge your performance and help you improve the next one.