One Easy Way to Develop Quality Culture: Quick Kill Kaizen

Creating a quality control orientated culture in small manufacturing plants can be difficult. I know this from having worked in a large company and then moving to a smaller plant.

In the big companies in automotive and aerospace manufacturing, we used Kaizen events to overcome major quality obstacles. Kaizen is a Japanese word that means the practice of continuous improvement. Kaizen events invest a company’s most valuable resources, people and time, to improve quality and save big money.



I used them all the time in previous companies and when I moved to the smaller plant, I wanted to use them to improve the quality of our products. Turned out to be a lot harder than I thought, but I made it a goal to change the culture.

Ironically the culture in the smaller plant was more resistant to change than the bigger one. In smaller plants, everyone wears different hats and getting people to sit in a conference room working in a Kaizen team to overcome some of the issues we had seemed a waste to the department managers. I’m sure you’ve heard the same reasons I heard too:

  • It’s the way it is.
  • The customer just needs to pay more
  • We tried that before and it didn’t work, so why try it again?

Corporate culture runs deep and, let’s be honest, there will always be excuses not to change. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change it.

I realized I would first have to change how the managers thought, the company culture, before we could have a true Kaizen event. Enter the Quick Kill Kaizen.

A Quick Kill Kaizen is anything that makes an improvement. And I really do mean anything. Here’s a list of the kind of simple things I’m talking about.

  • A part we use was stored at the opposite end of the plant of where it’s used so we changed its storage location next to where we need it. No more wasted time to go get it.
  • Added a process note to a print so we know what order to put things together in the future.
  • Added more detail to a print to prevent making the same mistake twice.
  • Updated the standard in making a product from 1 hour to the 30 minutes it actually took to make it, helping us to improve capacity planning.
  • On the other hand, changed the standard of making a different product from 1 hour to 1.5 hours. Sounds bad, but now the manager can address it so the company stops losing money. Great for manager during bonus time!.
  • Fixed a bent leg on a shelf holding heavy parts, preventing a possible accident.
  • Shadow boarded our tools in our area so we always know where they are, that way we don’t have to find them.
  • Installed another light over the bench we work at so we can see better.
  • Reduced the BOM (Bill of Material) to the actual parts we need so we aren’t making something we don’t need to.
  • Replaced a broken fan motor with an old one an employee remembered we stored in the back room.

Every day employees see something that can change for the better, but won’t offer suggestions at the time because they feel no one will listen to them. So the key is to get the ideas flowing to management.

We did this at the plant by having War Board meetings with every department manager every week. I’ll write more about these meetings in the future, but for now, I required each department manager to share one Quick Kill Kaizen they implemented in their area. This got the managers listening for ideas from employees. As management started to make changes based on employee input, employees presented more Quick Kill Kaizen ideas.

When managers shared the Quick Kills in the meeting every week, all the other department managers could easily think about whether they could apply a solution to their area as well.

Employees and managers all thinking of how to improve quality companywide is how a culture changes.

Not only did the meetings help spread ideas faster, we used it to motivate us to keep going by tracking Quick Kills. When we started we had 97. The next year the number grew to 226, followed by 442 at the end of 2014. We are killing it!

The great thing is that the Quick Kill Kaizen is so simple, you don’t actually need a meeting to implement them and start saving money. And believe me, the small victories will lead to bigger ones. Three years on and the company culture is changing thanks to the Quick Kill Kaizen.

If this article was helpful, let me know in the comments! I’d be happy to answer questions about implementing the Quick Kill Kaizen. If you already do this, share your success so we can all learn!