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Utilize Modular Kaizen To Launch Continuous Improvement Efforts

Nicole Radziwill

Not enough people (or too much work) to let your kaizen team go off on their own for a while? Try this instead to launch your continuous quality improvement initiatives.

The kaizen event is a quick (and often highly effective) team-based problem-solving approach drawn from lean manufacturing. (An extremely rapid event may be called a kaizen blitz.)

In a kaizen event, participants use a structured Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) approach to deliver fast results. The process includes value stream mapping, 5S (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain), and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). Kaizen teams usually are sequestered from the rest of the organization and have the freedom and autonomy to focus on a singular problem and deliver the identified improvements.

Figure 1: Modular kaizen tools, from Bialek et al. (2011)

The luxury of freeing people from their regular duties is unfortunately one that isn’t available to all organizations. What should you do if you can’t afford to have a dedicated team carry out your kaizen event? Fortunately, there is an answer that’s been tested in healthcare environments: modular kaizen.

“Modular kaizen… recognizes that taking critical employees and leaders out of mainstream work simply is not possible for many organizations. Keeping daily activities moving smoothly toward organizational goals is a balancing act.” -- Duffy (2019)

Modular kaizen transforms a regular kaizen event into smaller activities that can be slotted into participants’ regular schedules. Because the primary goal is to minimize disruptions to processes that are being improved, it follows an overall Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) structure but with one key difference: within the “Do” step, there is a smaller PDCA loop that starts with the “Check” step to make sure there is a baseline to assess the new change that is being introduced. The assumption is made that the process to be improved is understood the same way by people in operations and people on the kaizen team, and it is in control.

If you have been thinking about introducing kaizen, but are uncertain about the resource requirements, a modular approach may help. Before you begin, clearly define internal processes so the kaizen team knows how to work with others in the organization to effect change and set clear and understandable improvement goals for the event.

Additional Reading

Bialek, R., Duffy, G. L. & Moran, J. W. (2011). Modular Kaizen: Dealing with Disruptions. Public Health Institute. Available from

Duffy, G. L. (2019, May). Online figures: A Systematic View. In Six Sigma Forum Magazine (Vol. 18, No. 3). ASQ.

Gaddis, S. (2019, January 22). Safety Management Systems and Improving your Organization’s Safety. Intelex Blog, Available from

Radziwill, N. (2019, July 25). What Makes Kaizen Successful. Intelex Community, Available from

About the Author: Nicole Radziwill is the Vice President, Global Practice Leader, Quality & Supply Chain at Intelex Technologies. Before Intelex, she was an Associate Professor of Data Science and Production Systems, Assistant Director (VP) End-to-End Operations at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and manager and consultant for several other organizations since the late 1990's bringing quality management to technologically-oriented operations. She is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) with a Ph.D. in Quality Systems from Indiana State University. Nicole serves as Editor of Software Quality Professional (SQP) journal and is a former Chair of the ASQ Software Division. She is an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE) and Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB). 



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August 01, 2019 @ 09:24 AM EDT Manufacturing Operations, Quality

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