A Kaizen board is a neat concept. It’s a visual tool that keeps track of all the ideas for improvements gathered across a team and then helps to analyze the status of ongoing improvement experiments. What we get from using a Kaizen board is we encourage everyone to participate in improvement process, visualize ongoing and planned improvements and give ourselves some sort of a tracking mechanism.
That’s the theory.
In practice I haven’t seen such a board that would work well.
I don’t say it isn’t possible to make it work. I just say it’s unlikely.
To answer why I think so, I have to bring the old story repeated multiple times in the context of Lean. When Japanese started kicking Americans’ butts in automotive industry in the second part of twentieth century Americans sent their managers to see what’s so different in factories in Japan. Surprisingly enough Japanese were super-open and transparent with all the tools and practices they had in place. Americans meticulously noted all the novel stuff they learned and implemented the same tools and methods back home. Guess what. It didn’t work.
It didn’t work because all these practices weren’t really game changers. The real game changer was underlying mindset that actually made these tools and methods work. By the way, this was also a reason why sharing all the secrets about practices wasn’t a problem. They weren’t nearly enough to make a difference.
We pretty much recreate the same story when we try tools like Kaizen boards or when we create Kaizen teams. We introduce a tool and believe it will change the game. It won’t.
The magic behind thousands and thousands of improvements implemented in Toyota every year is not any of the tools. It is a culture that supports trying stuff out. It is mindset that enables that. All that continuous improvement is happening not because people submit improvement ideas to Kaizen boards but because people are actively experimenting. They do stuff.
If you tried using a Kaizen board this picture may be familiar. There was lots of stuff submitted to the board but very few, if any, real changes were observable in your working environment. Now ask yourself: what would it take for any team member to try something out. Would people need to get permission and a blessing before they changed the way they worked? And then, when the thing failed, would they need to explain or ask forgiveness? Would they feel that they were co-creating the system they were a part of?
In most organizations I know these answers would tell you why your Kaizen board or Kaizen team or Kaizen whatever doesn’t have a slightest chance to work. In fact, in such a situation a Kaizen board would just be a nice excuse. I’d had that awesome idea but it wasn’t accepted. I’d come up with that great improvement but there wasn’t time to implement it.
Except then you shouldn’t call it a Kaizen board but an excuse board.
And the best part is: if you have right mindset and the right culture in place a Kaizen board isn’t needed at all. People just run their improvement experiments. Of course some of them last and some of them don’t. Then you obviously can use a Kaizen board as a tracking and visualization tool. Unless you get there though – don’t bother.