Public Housing Process Improvement: Rapid Improvement Through Kaizen

The main point of a Kaizen event is rapid improvement with a specific issue or process your agency is having problems with.  You get everyone responsible in a room and work through the process to quickly improve it in a dramatic fashion. A Kaizen event can last a day or 5 days.  I suppose longer, but that might be too much.  One of the first things you need to do is develop metrics.  You know there is a problem but without numbers and a true understanding of the issue, you are doomed to waste a lot of time. You must establish a baseline against which a goal can be defined and progress evaluated. This should be happening before any Kaizen event.  You cannot start an event without some type of measurements already in place.   Without data, you are left with a group brainstorming event.

Before the Kaizen

Here is a quick checklist:

  • Gather your data
  • Gather Voice of Customer (VOC)
  • Write project charter including scope and objectives
  • Identify necessary team members/departments

Day 1 – Current State Documentation

On the first day, the project leader should talk over the charter, rules of participation, how disagreements are going to be handled and the process.  You should invite project sponsors to show everyone in the room that you have leadership support.  They do not need to stay but should be involved.

Use the day to look over the overall process and get a deep understanding.  Make damn sure the folks doing the work are there.  Bring in forms and documents as these should all be examined.  You will want everyone open to pointing out waste within the process.  Remember, you are not trying to solve the world, just understanding it.  Get the process on paper.  Point out potential area of waste.  You can put performance measurements to the information as you go.   By the end of the day, you should have some type of value stream map showing the old process very clearly.

Day 2 –Full Understanding of Current State

On the next day, it is time to put measurements to everything.  Break out the various areas of waste.  Put numbers to them.  You may break into sub-groups and assign those most knowledgeable of various wasteful areas of the process to come of with time/money associated.  Again, you can go to the step and use different tools like more detailed process maps, spaghetti diagrams or fish-bone diagrams to help dig in where necessary.  You want to end the day with understanding your main areas of waste, and how much time it is costing you.  You can do this in a group or sub-group format.

Day 3 –Start Planning Future State and Planning Implementation

You now know where all of your problems lie.  That is great.  Now you need to decide what needs to be done.  It is smarter to break into sub-groups with a good cross-section of staff.  Make sure each group has a trained facilitator.  Each group can be assigned a part of the overall value stream and decide how to attack the waste within their areas.  They can also re-write how it would flow in the future state.  The sub-groups can do report outs every couple hours just to get quick feedback or touch base.  The sub-groups can also start coming up with predicted future state time values for what they predict once the process is improved.

Day 4 – Continued Planning and Begin Implementation Planning

Within sub-groups, you will want to come up with solutions, prioritize which major wastes you want to attack, decide where standard work is needed and where new policies, procedures and or processes are necessary.  You will also be deciding what to implement first, and what to do if plans cannot be implemented as needed. Bring the main group together every few hours to gain consensus and make sure everyone is headed down the right path.

You will create project to help determine the timing of process solutions and what should be done immediately vs. what might come later.  You can also write a future state process map to mock up the perfect future state once everything is functioning as you want it to.  A future state value stream map or process map should be created to illustrate the impact of the changes visually. Think about solutions that can be done with out major expenses like technology or new software programs.  Those can delay improvements.  Keep them as options or put them in the parking lot.

  • Implement quick wins if possible immediately.
  • Prepare and make changes to forms/document during the event if possible.

Day 5 – Finalize Plans and Present

Each Sub-group should finalize the future state and how/when it will happen.  There should be associated timelines which will be determined after touching base with both the full group and the project leader.  The sub-groups should present on their top 3 improvements determined and how much time/dollars they believe will be saved by the process.

Follow Up:

There should be an overall implementation plan at the end of the process.  There should be a 30 day, 60 day and 90 day follow up to see if all action items have been implemented.  Standard work should be documented and a final wrap up report with plans on how to sustain should also be put into place.


As with anything lean process improvement related, use your best judgement on how to move forward.  You don’t always need to break into sub-groups or do a 5 day event.  In some situations, you might be able to do a rapid change and implement the whole damn thing within a day or two.   The most important thing about a Kaizan event is to plan the hell out of it and make sure data is a huge part.

Has your housing authority done a Kaizan event?  Have you been part of one in the past?  What were the results?



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