Learning From Less Successful Kaizen Events: A Case Study
Jennifer A. Farris, Texas Tech
Eileen M.Van Aken, Virginia Tech
Toni L. Doolen, Oregon State University
June Worley, Oregon State University
Abstract: This paper describes results from an ongoing
research program focused on identifying determinants of
Kaizen event effectiveness, both in terms of initial event
outcomes and the sustainability of outcomes. Although
anecdotal published accounts suggest that increasing
numbers of companies are using Kaizen events, and that
these projects can result in substantial improvement in key
business metrics, there is a lack of systematic research on
Kaizen events. A particular weakness of the current published accounts is the lack of attention to less successful events – only strongly successful applications of Kaizen events receive much coverage in the accounts; however, the organizational learning literature suggests that understanding less successful cases is a key component of organizational learning. We present a case
study from a less successful Kaizen event to demonstrate how the case study event contributed to organizational learning. We also present a set of methods and measures that can be
used by practicing engineering managers and engineering
management researchers to evaluate and analyze Kaizen event
performance. The implications of the case study event for the current body of knowledge on Kaizen events are also examined, and, finally, directions for future research are described.
Keywords: Productivity, Teams, Lean Manufacturing,
EMJ Focus Areas: Strategic and Operations Management,
Program and Project Management, Quality Management
“Kaizen event” is a focused and structured improvement
project, using a dedicated cross-functional team to
improve a targeted work area, with specific goals, in an
accelerated timeframe (Letens, Farris, and Van Aken, 2006).
During the relatively short timeframe of the event (generally 3 to 5 days), Kaizen event team members apply low-cost problemsolving tools and techniques to rapidly plan and, often, implement improvements in a target work area. Evidence suggests that
Kaizen events have become increasingly popular in recent years as a method of rapidly introducing improvements. In particular, Kaizen events have been associated with the implementation
of lean production (Womack, Roos, and Jones, 1990). In fact
Kaizen events apparently originated with Toyota, which used this method to train its suppliers in lean production practices during the 1970s (Sheridan, 1997).
Anecdotal published accounts suggest that some Kaizen
events have resulted in substantial improvements in key business metrics, as well as in important human resource outcomes
(Sheridan, 1997; Melnyk, Calantone, Montabon, and Smith,
1998; Laraia, Moody, and Hall, 1999); however, despite their popularity and apparent potential for creating improvement,
there is a lack of systematic research on Kaizen events. The majority of current Kaizen event publications are focused on anecdotal results from companies that have implemented Kaizen events (Sheridan, 1997; Cuscela, 1998) and untested design
recommendations from individuals and organizations that
facilitate Kaizen events (e.g., Laraia et al., 1999; Vitalo, Butz, and Vitalo, 2003). There is no systematic, empirical evidence on what sort of Kaizen event designs may be most effective for achieving and sustaining improvements in business performance or human resource outcomes.
A particular weakness of the current published accounts
is the lack of attention to less successful events – only strongly successful Kaizen events receive much coverage in the accounts. This is despite the fact that Laraia et al. (1999) suggest that most companies will have difficulty sustaining even half of
the results from a given event. In addition, the organizational learning literature suggests that understanding less successful tool...
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