bus stop picEvery once in a while I will come upon someone who will share their recently identified business problem. Great first step. But, then they’ll state their plan to address that problem in the next kaizen event. And oh, by the way, that kaizen event may not be for another MONTH! It’s like they’re waiting at the kaizen bus stop for the next scheduled opportunity to make an improvement. Now, I understand that sometimes this make sense given the complexity and magnitude of the problem. But this is often the exception, not the rule. Kaizen events are great training grounds for employees to learn, by doing, how to apply PDCA thinking…so that they can then do it virtually all the time, as real time as possible. We can’t be sitting on our hands waiting for the next kaizen bus!

Kaizen events are very powerful and are often the initial deployment vehicle for lean transformations, but they are not the be all and end all. In fact, the proper context for kaizen events is the lean business system (a.k.a. TPS). Similarly, the Shingo Prize differentiates between tool, system and principle-driven kaizen. Tool-driven is synonymous with unguided, drive-by kaizen events – lots of action, but not much focus, results or sustainability. System-driven kaizen is reflective of kaizen events conducted in accordance with formal value stream improvement plans. It’s kaizen with a cause and, when properly done, is very impactful, both at a business and cultural level. Principle-driven kaizen represents the proper balance between kaizen events and daily kaizen. In fact, it’s system-driven kaizen PLUS daily kaizen as executed by empowered, engaged and trained individuals and teams. The ultimate principle-driven “mix” is predominately daily kaizen activity sprinkled with occasional, but not accidental, kaizen events. Think of it as a continuous unending flow of improvement buses.

Please share your thoughts. Has anyone else experienced the bus stop phenomena? What did you do to address it?

Related post: Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings