Insider’s Guide: How to Plan an Impactful Kaizen Event

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A Kaizen Event (or Kaizen Day) is a key to Japan’s competitive success over traditional western management.

Japanese organisations continuously and mindfully initiate gradual change – a philosophy that we’ve now wholly incorporated into our agency management processes at Digivate.

Kaizen Days have helped us to automate some of the internal agency processes, serve our clients more effectively, and ultimately – innovate in the digital space.

Below we’ll share when and how to use Kaizen Events, as well as go through the steps needed to succeed in continuous organisational improvement. 

What is Kaizen Day?

A Kaizen Event (or Kaizen Day) is a 1 – 5-day event or workshop that starts with the problem and works through to the implementation of the solution. It is part of the lean methodology of process improvement that focuses on eliminating waste. 

Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “Change for the better” (Kai = change , Zen = good). 

kaizen in kanji
Kaizen Events are intended to improve an existing process within a company.

The key to Kaizen Culture is continuous improvement, so unlike one-off training and development events, Kaizen Days are a regular occurence.

Kaizen Days must include these 5 elements:

  • Teamwork,
  • Personal discipline,
  • Improved morale,
  • Quality circles,
  • Suggestions for improvement

At Digivate, we run Kaizen Days once a month, usually on Fridays. This allows our employees and management to:

  • Work together 
  • Introspect/retrospect on the past few weeks 
  • Improve the way they work as an individual or a team
  • Have a day dedicated to uninterrupted deep work and be able to dig deeper into a subject
  • Kick-off a big internal project: plan, allocate, and define the MVP

A few examples of Kaizen Day projects include:

  • Automating reports (developers working with other teams)
  • Improving cross-business processes (e.g. our data team helping our SEO team)
  • Documentation (e.g. project managers documenting past projects)
  • Working on a tool (e.g. set-up a new tool or optimise the use of an existing one)
  • Developing a new service/product 
  • Training
  • Admin (e.g. a lot of repetitive/similar tasks you’ve been putting aside)

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Planning a Kaizen Day 

Planning your Kaizen Day is crucial to achieving your goals and will help you do more with fewer resources.

Firstly, you need to establish the purpose and the agenda of the day, as well as the people who are needed for the project.

Who should facilitate a Kaizen Day?

For any Kaizen Event to be successful you’ll need someone to facilitate the event. The person can be anyone in your organisation who has some lean management experience. Project/product managers, delivery or agile delivery managers are usually well-suited to run Kaizen Days.

Whoever organises Kaizen Day should:

  • Have project/product management skills to be able to drive teams towards success, by either helping to define features, or by building the timeline or finding the best way to get things done. 
  • Have at least 2 or 3 hours available per month to organise, follow-up and review Kaizen Day 
  • A good overview of what each part of the business does 
  • Optional: know the priorities of the business (to make decisions with teams on what to work on). This is optional, as the schedule can simply be sent to senior management for approval. 

During a Kaizen Day, the organiser can either be part of one team (individual or with other members), or work with several teams. When preparing the schedule, the facilitator will identify teams who need support in terms of project/product management and propose their help accordingly.

How often should a Kaizen Day be organised?

You can organise Kaizen Days as often as you need. The most important thing is to do it regularly.

We run monthly Kaizen Days, every third Friday. It’s a fixed day in everyone’s calendars.

Here are some tips to consider when organising the best time for a Kaizen Day:

  • Try to schedule it on the day of the week that is least busy
  • Schedule it on the day teams are most efficient/energised/inspired
  • Pick the time of the month that is less busy (for example, early/ end of the month are usually busier in agencies)

How to organise a Kaizen Day?

A thorough plan will help you get the most out of Kaizen. Let’s look at the 3 key steps to organising your own Kaizen workshop and avoiding common mistakes:

Step 1: Pick a process you want to improve

Start by selecting a business process you want to improve. It can be a customer/client on-boarding, workflows, manufacturing or procurement process.

Step 2: Prepare

Start preparing for Kaizen Day 2 weeks in advance. Send a questionnaire to all people involved to ask what they would like to work on.

This can be a simple Google Survey form (see example below).

example of Google questionnaire

You should then create a Kaizen Day schedule based on participants’ responses. In case there are a lot of good ideas, a facilitator can have teams work across 2 projects.

The Kaizen Day schedule should show the agenda for the day for different teams.

We recommend sharing the final schedule with the team 4 days before to allow some time to prepare.

Step 3: What happens on the day

Below is the Kaizen Day agenda we’ve been using for 6 months:

  • Kaizen Day starts at 9 am and ends at 4.30 pm. In the morning, teams get together to discuss responsibilities. Some people prefer to work independently and share their progress with their team at the end of the day. Others prefer to be on Zoom all day long. The way they work is entirely up to them.
  • Kaizen Day ends with a presentation, where each team presents what they did on the day.
  • At the end of the day, everyone updates their ticket on a project management system (we use Jira). This will help everyone to stay on track and remember the next steps needed to move forward.

The typical example of Kaizen day schedule:

  • 9 am – 9.30 am –  Admin/clean-up (optional but recommended)
  • 9.30 am –  Kaizen Day starts, teams get together
  • 10 am – Work begins
  • 1-2 pm – Lunch break
  • 4 pm – Show & Tell presentations
  • 5 pm – Update JIRA issue
  • 5.30 pm –  End of the day

Insider tips 

1. Do only one project at a time

We all know priorities can shift, but finishing a project before starting another is paramount for the cycle of continuous improvement.

A simple way to identify multitasking is to monitor the Kaizen Day board on a project management platform you use (like JIRA). If too many issues are in progress and none are done, you have a multitasking team right there. 

2. Schedule work outside of Kaizen Days for bigger projects

Larger projects done during a Kaizen Day can feel a bit discouraging/slow as they’re spread over several months. In this case, try to take some time during your regular workdays to work on them to keep the momentum going. 

The facilitator should help coordinate the project, or assign a project manager to manage the processes.

3. Keep the ‘Show and Tell’ presentation short and sweet

Let’s be honest – a lot of mini-projects done during Kaizen Day are not always worth talking about in front of the entire business.

Admin, documentation, automation can be boring for marketers and business developers, so keep the show and tell short and relevant to everyone.

You can set a limit of 5 minutes for every presentation. And anyone who needs more than 5 minutes to present, can prepare a separate Lunch & Learn presentation.

4. Be flexible

If work gets in the way of Kaizen, give people an option to either skip it, do a half-day or postpone it to another day.

Conclusion

Kaizen Days have not only improved the quality and efficiency of our work but also boosted the sense of commitment and ownership among our team.

We hope this article inspired you to cultivate a mindset of continuous improvement in your organisation, too.

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