How to Facilitate a Kaizen event

Kaizen is about empowering people to make small changes for significant results. Kaizen’s end goal is continuous improvement. It is a strategy where lawyers at all levels in a law firm work together proactively to achieve constant, incremental improvements to legal processes. Its team work philosophy creates a powerful engine for continuous improvement in the organization.

Robert Maurer described the Kaizen method as the journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step  (McKay, 2017). According to Maurer, Kaizen has two definitions; One is making extremely small steps to accomplish a large goal. The other definition is looking at very, very small moments to learn large lessons (McKay, 2017).

Kaizen is easy to understand, not too hard to implement, and because of the broad concept behind the word, there are several descriptions or protocols to help establish and apply Kaizen in an organization. According to Margaret Rouse, ten principles address the Kaizen mindset and they are the core of the philosophy:

  1. Let go of assumptions
  2. Be proactive about solving problems
  3. Do not accept the status quo
  4. Let go of perfectionism and take an attitude of iterative, adaptive change
  5. Look for solutions as you find mistakes
  6. Create an environment where everyone feels empowered to contribute
  7. Do not accept the obvious issue; instead, ask “why” five times to get to the root cause
  8. Cull information and opinions from multiple people
  9. Use creativity to find low-cost, small improvements
  10. Never stop improving ( Rouse, n.d.)

Kaizen in the Law

So, how can we conduct a Kaizen event in a law firm or legal department? How do we emphasize critical thinking? We need to follow a few steps before we enter into a full Kaizen event.

  1. Select the team; work with the leadership to identify tools for project selection, so that we work on project areas that correspond with the leadership ideas of what should happen next.
  1. Go to Gamba. This is where we find more about the process, identify waste in the process, and potential improvement. We also need to identify people who would make a good team. In a services industry like legal, we can use process maps to understand and see how many decision points there are and whether the process is moving smoothly or bouncing back and forth between different areas.
  1. Work with leaders and stakeholders to select across-functional team. In legal departments it is important to understand that this team is cross-functional, so you might want to include people from out side the department, i.e. IT or procurement people.
  1. Send invitations to team members, in this invitation establish the expectations to be part of the team, i.e. event times, participant benefits for taking part in the Kaizen event.
  1. Once we select the team, we need a facilitator, this person will be in charge of directing and managing the ideas brainstorm during the Kaizen event. The facilitator will need to select the process to follow during the brainstorm, i.e. go around the room picking ideas, or sticky notes exercises. The facilitator needs to ensure full and equal collaboration.
  1. Allow “piggy-backing”, remember a crazy idea may not be the answer, but it is quite likely that a crazy idea could kickstart the group’s creativity to come up with better solutions, that is why piggy-backing is important. Someone has an idea, let someone else pick from that idea and we continue improving until we have an ultimate solution
  1. Creativity before capital. We need to be creative and avoid thinking of solutions by spending money. If our idea needs money, we need to think of how to spend less to make the idea happen.
  1. Teams in every Kaizen event have to be data-driven. Data is what moves us beyond opinions. That is why it is critical that our data collection tools are consistent. People on the Kaizen event need training on the data collection tools, i.e. a standard form used the same way every time is an absolute must in a lean system
  1. Root cause analysis tools. To facilitate the brainstorm in the Kaizen event, we need to be familiar with the different root cause analysis tools, i.e. 5 why, fishbone diagram, or the A3.

Kaizen event facilitators need to know root cause analysis tools well and establish ground rules for the event. As these rules can be designed and established by the team before the event, there is a set of rules known as the 14 rules for Kaizen.

Fourteen Rules for Kaizen.

  1. Keep an open mind to change
  2. Maintain a positive attitude
  3. Create a blameless environment
  4. Encourage non-judgmental thinking
  5. Foster an awareness of multiple alternatives
  6. Treat others as you want to be treated
  7. Respect and involve all team members
  8. One person, one vote - no positions orranks!
  9. Create a team environment (there is no I in team
  10. No such thing as a dumb question
  11. Create a bias for action – just do it!
  12. Creativity before capital
  13. Never leave in silent disagreement
  14. Have fun!

We need to spend at least thirty minutes on day one of the Kaizen event to establish and go through these rules and ensure they are followed. We all have a responsibility for the culture in the room, and the facilitator uses these ground rules to ensure we do it together.

At times during the event, the group will face some tension, the facilitator will need to identify those tension moments and find ways to break them, without avoiding them. The group is being led into a tension situation, and there need to be ways to deal with that, for example:

In conclusion, we need to prepare our team, send invitations with the benefits and expectations for the Kaizen event. Establish event ground rules and encourage teamwork and creative thinking. The facilitator needs to know what to do when we encounter constraints, how to help the team to look deeply for the true root causes, and finally, we need to have a deep toolbox containing the team’s facilitating techniques that will help the team when facing tension during the event.

Mckay, B. (2017, September 21). The kaizen  method, get 1% better each day. Retrieved from Art of manliness, Podcast:
Rouse, M. (n.d.). Kaizen (continuous  improvement). Retrieved from