How do you sustain kaizen results? This is a common question that I get asked and an issue that we all deal with on our lean journey. We work hard at identifying opportunities and finding ways to reduce waste in our processes only to see many of our gains erode over time. How do we sustain our kaizen results?

There are most certainly several factors that could affect our kaizen sustainability, however I would like to focus on just one. In my experience, the quality of our kaizen follow-up activities greatly impacts sustaining our kaizen results.

In the case of kaizen events, it seems we do a pretty good job of working through all the issues, despite struggling during the week, and end up getting good results which, in some cases, can be amazing. In our team report out, we show the before kaizen condition and after kaizen results that were accomplished in the event followed by a typical 30-day homework list, maybe some lessons learned and a listing of future kaizen opportunities. We congratulate the team on a job well done and celebrate our success.

At this point, the erosion process begins. Many times, we believe that job is done with our report out and celebration, moving on to new opportunities. We have lots of waste to eliminate, right?

But just ask the associates in the recent event area that endured the kaizen storm for the week if the job is done. Almost 100 percent of the time, you would get a big “Hell, no!” Some would say details, details, details, but that is the point. If we don’t follow up well and get these details worked out, erosion takes hold and results are lost.

Our follow-up efforts must be just as diligent as our activities during the kaizen event. That requires providing resources on a daily basis to resolve all the open issues from the kaizen activity. Be prepared that we may find that this takes more effort than the kaizen event itself.

Don’t fall into the trap of waiting until the last week before the 30-day follow-up meeting to crash through the list in a frantic attempt to get it all done in one day. This crash-course approach almost always creates poor workmanship and weakened results.

If we think about it, this type of effort is more strenuous on our team than if we spread the follow-up activity out daily for the 30 days. Not only is the workload spread out (less burden), the quality goes up.

Here are a few helpful hints that may improve our kaizen follow-up:

1) Have a kaizen follow-up process: It sounds silly, but some companies don’t have a follow-up process at all. Create a process that works for your company and use it.

2) Establish a formal 30-day follow-up meeting: Try setting this meeting date at the time of the kaizen report out for approximately 30 days out, and stick to that date. This meeting should have a formal agenda.

3) Add a 30-day results column to the Kaizen Results Achieved sheet: Typical Kaizen Results Achieved sheets have columns for improvement measurement (i.e. productivity, WIP inventory, floor space, etc.), before kaizen, kaizen goal, actual achievement and percent improved. Just add a column for 30-day follow-up to record what the improvement results were at 30 days.

4) Put one person in charge of the entire kaizen follow-up: This could be the kaizen team leader, sub-leader or the process owner. Don’t just rely on departments or individual assigned to tasks to finish the job. One key leader should be assigned and responsible for the complete follow-up process.

5) Buy-in is still important: We may have done a good job getting buy-in for the process changes by the people in the process during the event, but as things go south the next week, it is easy for people to give up. Work to remove their frustration and keep their buy-in.

6) Keep our presence in gemba: Kaizen events are fast-paced and exciting. One of the most notable features is constant presence in gemba by the team during the week. But what happens the following week? From an associate point of view, it may feel like everybody forgot about you and you are abandoned, left on your own to make it work. Let our associates know that we are still there to support them after kaizen by staying in gemba.

7) Extend follow-up past 30 days: Sometimes our follow-up activities do not result in a stable enough process after just 30 days. Don’t be afraid to add a 60-day or even a 90-day follow-up for activities and meetings.

8) Kaizen our kaizen: Reflect on each stage and element in our kaizen process. What improvements can we implement to improve our kaizen process? Include ideas from team members and associates in the kaizen areas.

With focus on our kaizen follow-up process, we have a better chance of sustaining our results. It just may take us a little more work after the kaizen.