Printing Lean

The 3P’s of kaizen

By Tom Southworth | January 18, 2012

Lean practitioners are familiar with Production Preparation Process, or 3P, which enables organizations to eliminate waste using a rigorous, structured process. Many companies are familiar with eliminating waste through kaizen, or continuous improvement, but a Production Preparation Process enables companies to eliminate the possibility of waste through product and process design. When used properly, 3P helps prevent a lot of headaches.

Those of you who are or have been in the military know the 7P’s, edited here for taste: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents (Pathetically) Poor Performance. The common ground, in both, is proper planning and preparation before attempting anything. The same holds true for kaizen.

Many know what kaizen is, or at least think that they do. Kaizen is continuous improvement. Kaizen can be practiced by an individual or a group and, like 3P, when used properly can be an extremely powerful ally in improving safety, making work easier to do, improving the quality of products and services, and do all of this economically to have a positive impact on an organization’s bottom line.

I say that many think that they know what kaizen is but the sad fact is that many only think of kaizen when it comes time to do an “event.” Kaizen does not necessarily equal “kaizen event” but too many people and organizations are under the false impression that it does, and this false impression can be laid squarely at the feet of those in my line of work: consultants.

Now, I’m not maligning consultants or painting all with a broad brush. After all, I am one, but I have met the enemy and it is us, the consultant. There are many, many top-notch consultants and business coaches who truly have their clients’ best interests in mind. I try to be a part of that group. There are, however, too many consultants who look no further than their next contract and it’s this group that I direct my ire toward.

I, as many others do, try to be what I’ve called a perpetual student of Lean. In other words I’m always trying to improve, to continuously improve, as that is what kaizen is all about. I try to practice what I preach. That includes recognizing my limitations and knowing when to change my approach to any tactical or strategic problem. In Lean, one size does not fit all, but too many “lean consultants,” to use the term very loosely, try to shoehorn companies into one canned approach to kaizen and that’s typically the 5-day “kaizen event.”

Let’s get one thing straight: kaizen does not mean “5-day event.” An event, by definition, is something that has happened. In other words, an event has a beginning and an end. If kaizen means continuous improvement, then how can something that is “continuous” have an end? The answer is it doesn’t, but that’s what these consultants have sold to their clients, that kaizen is something that has an end.

Don’t get me wrong, events can and do have their place in a Lean enterprise, but these events are not kaizen. They are happenings with a beginning and an end that use kaizen or continuous improvement to effect change. Kaizen, though, is not the exclusive property of said “events.” Kaizen can and should be done by everyone, every day. As Jon Miller ( writes, “The only type of kaizen is daily kaizen.”

What’s happened here in the west, in my opinion, is that consultants and others have led their clients to believe that the only kaizen is the 5-day event. Why? It makes for a nice, clean contract and it allows said consultant to sell a lazy, canned approach to unsuspecting companies who don’t know any better.

My new year’s wish is for everyone to stop saying “kaizen event,” but that ship sailed a long time ago. What I can do, instead, is try to help everyone make the best use of their time during these rapid improvement events and they can do that by remembering another 3P – Purpose, Plan, People.


Before you spend any time and money on a multi-day event, ask yourself this one question: What is the purpose of this event? If you can’t answer that, stop. Do not pass go; do not collect (or spend!) $200.

Since kaizen is continuous improvement, what are you looking to improve? What problem are you trying to solve? What condition are you trying to correct? If you’re going to work with me you need to have an answer. I don’t like wasting time but that’s just what I’d be doing if you don’t have a purpose for your multi-day event.

If your purpose of holding an event is because your company plan is to hold X number of events per year, don’t waste my time or your money. Do not, I repeat, do not hold events just to meet a quota. That is the ultimate in waste.


Once you have a purpose, what’s your plan? Who is going to be involved? When and for how long? Who will be the backups for those involved? Who is the champion? Who is the facilitator? Who is the team leader? What is the scope of the event and it’s goal? Once the event is complete, what follow-up will be done, by whom, and when? Who will check that the corrective actions are effective?


Remember your most important assets: your people. Don’t forget them when you plan. They’re not machines that you can start and stop at the flip of a switch. I know this may sound crazy, but people actually have lives outside of work. They have roles and responsibilities with their families and in their communities that they just can’t ignore, yet that’s just what we do to them when we fail to include them in our event planning. You must give people at least two weeks notice, four would be better, so that they can plan for child care, rides, medical appointments, etc. that have nothing to do with work. Remember the two pillars of Lean – Just In Time and Respect for People. Respect your employees’ time and their lives outside of their work. Those that do will have far more productive and engaged employees than those who fail to show respect.

The 3P’s of Kaizen

Have a purpose for taking several people off the floor for an extended period of time. Have a plan to use their time wisely. Show respect by acknowledging that these people have lives and that they, like you, don’t like to have their time wasted.

Tom Southworth is a Lean consultant with CONNSTEP, Connecticut’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership. He is a Senior Member of ASQ, an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality & Organizational Excellence, a senior member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, SME Lean Bronze Certified, and a certified TWI Job Instruction and Job Relations Trainer. He can be reached by email at
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