An Empirical Investigation of Kaizen Event Effectiveness: Outcomes and Critical Success Factors

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Virginia Tech

This research presents results from a multi-site field study of 51 Kaizen event teams in six manufacturing organizations. Although Kaizen events have been growing in popularity since the mid 1990s, to date, there has been no systematic empirical research on the determinants of Kaizen event effectiveness. To address this need, a theory-driven model of event effectiveness is developed, drawn from extant Kaizen event practitioner articles and related literature on projects and teams. This model relates Kaizen event outcomes to hypothesized key input factors and hypothesized key process factors. In addition, process factors are hypothesized to partially mediate the relationship between input factors and outcomes. Following sociotechnical systems (STS) theory, both technical and social (human resource) aspects of Kaizen event performance are measured. Relationships between outcomes, process factors and input factors are analyzed through regression, using generalized estimating equations (GEE) to account for potential correlation in residuals within organizations.

The research found a significant positive correlation between the two social system outcomes (attitude toward Kaizen events and employee gains in problem-solving knowledge, skills and attitudes). In addition, the research found significant positive correlations between the social system outcomes and one technical system outcome (team member perceptions of the impact of the Kaizen event on the target work area). However, none of the three technical system outcomes (employee perceptions of event impact, facilitator ratings of event success and actual percentage of team goals achieved) were significantly correlated.

In addition, the research found that each outcome variable had a unique set of input and process predictors. However, management support and goal difficulty were a common predictors of three out of five outcomes. Unexpected findings include negative relationships between functional diversity, team and team leader Kaizen event experience, and action orientation and one or more outcomes. However, many of the findings confirmed recommendations in Kaizen event practitioner articles and the project and team literature. Furthermore, support for the mediation hypothesis was found for most outcome measures. These findings will be useful both for informing Kaizen event design in practicing organizations and for informing future Kaizen event research.

Kaizen, Kaizen Event, Teams, Lean Manufacturing