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Rapid Improvement Events

TARGET AUDIENCE:  Any team that works together to produce a product, whether used internally or externally.  Examples include:  estimating, pre-construction, accounting, change orders, scheduling, logistics/supply chain, contracts, human resources, service, RFI, FGMP.

Rapid Improvement Events (RIE) are “formalized activities that organizations use to achieve rapid and dramatic improvements and progressively shift their culture.” They are grounded in the concept of Continuous Incremental Improvement – “taking apart and putting together in a better way.  It’s about empowering and unleashing the creative power of people who actually do the work, in order to design more effective and efficient processes – and not requiring leadership’s hands-on involvement” [1] at every step of the way. They are targeted on improving a specific Value Stream.

Just as Value Stream Mapping (VSM) works at the macro “big picture” level, so Rapid Improvement Events work at the micro-level in details.    VSM is strategic (the what); RIE is tactical (the how).

Common results for a 2-5 day RIE include improvements such as a 20%-50% decrease in the number of process steps, 10%-40% improvement in productivity, 40%-100% increase in process quality, and 50%-80% reduction in customer response time.[2]   “Another reason these events are so powerful is that they teach the organization how to solve problems through the scientific approach of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA).”  Thus, RIEs build powerful internal problem-solving capacity.

Event deliverables include a redesigned process which addresses customer needs/values and reflect significant productivity improvements including reduced steps, higher quality and higher velocity.  Leadership buy-in is achieved through engagement in the charter development as well as via short interim briefings - usually daily with the executive sponsor and other key stake holders.  RIE team composition is cross functional engaging the front-line workers that perform the process on a day-to-day basis as well as their (internal) customers and suppliers, support personnel and outside eyes.  Event phases include:

(1) Charter development by the involved managers and executive sponsor[3] .  Ideally, the RIE is linked to a Future State Value Stream Map, connecting the strategic (what needs to be improved) with the tactical (how will the new process be performed).

(2) Grasping the current situation.  Depending on the problem the team is addressing this may include: detailed mapping of the process; root cause analysis to surface the sources of quality issues, delays or other performance problems; or other techniques to identify disconnects.  Led by a skilled facilitator, the team identifies the customers (internal and external) of each step and evaluate how “Complete & Accurate” the work is at each step.  They discuss what’s working and what’s not working for each customer leading to a clarification of what the customer really needs and values in the product.  Most events integrate a Metrics-based Process Map which facilitates the identification of redundancies and barriers to flow, as well as the visualization of how process flow impacts performance. Throughout this stage opportunities identified by the team are noted and recorded (these ideas will be evaluated later in the event).

(3) From the list of opportunities developed in Step 2, an evaluation to evaluate which improvement ideas should be pursued. .  This real-time buy-in enables the team to rapidly move into the process redesign and implementation phase. Commitments and due dates are made by the responsible parties, and an overall plan is developed.  Pull Planning may be used as part of this effort.

(4) Once the team has bought in to the improvements that will be addressed during the event, they begin redesigning the process or product.   Redesign includes quick testing and peer reviews.  With a new design in place, work-force training and rollout takes place within the event.

(5) Periodic follow-ups occur to support and coach through the sustainment phase.  As the process is rolled out coaching and further adjustments may be required in order to assure the improvements stick.  This also helps assure the workforce is learning how to apply Continuous Improvement on a daily basis – positively “infecting” the whole organization.



[1]The Kaizen Event Planner: Achieving Rapid Improvement in Office, Service and Technical Environments, Karen Martin and Mike Osterling, 2007, CRC Press, page 21. Reprinted in 2010.  [Note: author Mike Osterling is our lead facilitator for Rapid Improvement Events.]

[2] As documented in The Kaizen Event Planner, pages 21-22.  Specific examples include a 63% reduction in construction cost estimating (from 40 days to 15 days), and for the US Navy in the creation of Controlled Work Packages” an 89% reduction in overall Lead Time, 81% reduction in actual work time expended (Process Time), and a 733% increase in “Complete & Accurate the first time” (from 6% to 50%).

[3] Charter session objectives: identification of the very specific process family to be mapped; define issues and objectives; determine goals, deliverables and possible obstacles; set boundaries; identify participants for the session, and assign responsibility for each item on the detailed pre-event checklist.