Solve Complex Problems In One Day- The Power Of Kaizen Events

Crush the Corporate America meeting culture with Kaizen Events! They are not just for manufacturing – sales, marketing and service teams can use them too.

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In your personal life, when faced with an urgent problem that needs to be addressed, do you A) deal with it swiftly asking friends and/or family for help, perhaps working on it over a weekend and taking a few days off from work OR B) set up a series of one hour meetings over a 3 to 6 month period to eventually resolve the issue?

There are many things about working in “Corporate America” that amuse me, and the meeting culture is one of them. Often times large companies attempt to solve complex problems, spread over very long periods of time – so by the end, either the problem has changed, the business needs have changed or the players have changed.

One of the most memorable, corporate America faux paus I observed had to do with a brand and division name change. A company I worked for in the late 90’s, spent big bucks bringing in a “branding consultant” and held months of meetings with the executive team to come up with a new name for a specific division of the business.

Once the new name was chosen, a cross-functional team (I participated representing sales) was assembled to work on planning and implementation. This team met about 2 hours weekly over a three month period and was just starting to implement WHEN a new CEO came into the business. He hated the new name and immediately pulled the trigger on the project. In the end, he came up with his own name and moved on from there.  It is scary to think about how much money in time and salaries was devoted to this effort.

What’s a business leader to do? Rethink how you are solving the problems in your business.

More and more companies are now turning to a shorter, one to two day problem solving approach, sometimes called a Kaizen Event.  For those of you with a process improvement background, it’s like Six Sigma on steroids.  These events or blitzes can be used to solve problems or improve business processes.

Here’s an example: Let’s assume that you are a sales leader, and your sales performance against quota is behind goal in 5 of your 10 territories. You could officially frame the problem as: How do I increase sales performance in territories a,b,c,d,e, by at least 10% or $2 million dollars, by the end of 2010, or within two months?.

Using this high speed problem solving approach, you would identify a small group of subject matter experts, influencers or stakeholders that could analyze the problem from different perspectives. You would reach out to your sales operations team and ask them to gather a variety of data points about the situation. Then you would plan a one or two day, ALL DAY, no interruptions session, to do nothing but discuss this very specific problem from beginning to end.

Your meeting agenda would look similar to a Six Sigma project and include:

  • Analyze Current State  (people, processes, technology, data)
  • Select Areas of Focus, i.e. the key contributors to the problem
  • Complete Root Cause Analysis
  • Identify All Possible Solutions
  • Prioritize and Select Solutions
  • Create High Level Action Plan/Next Steps List
  • Assign Solution Owners
  • Plan to Implement

To pull this off, you must have an expert level meeting facilitator that can guide the group through every step, keeping them on task and moving forward.

The success of the “event” is dependent on the planning and preparation involved. You can not “wing it ”.

Execute, execute, execute….. This is only a worthwhile exercise if you build in weekly follow-up meetings and measurements to hold yourself and the solution owners accountable for execution.

The business environment has changed. We don’t have months to wait around and solve problems – we have weeks or even days. We need to be faster than our competition. We need to delight our customers.

And, we have learned to solve smaller problems much faster (Google it), so why can’t we apply the same logic to large ones?

To learn more about one day problem solving or Kaizen Events, check out these resources:

The Kaizen Event (Blitz)– Is It Right For You? By Kuala Lumpor

When And How To Use Kaizen Events” By Darren Dolcemascolo

A colleague of mine wrote a book on this topic, with a twist – How we can use web conferencing tools to hold Kaizen Events. Learn more and download her free powerpoint planning deck on WebKaizen.com.


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