Kaizen events are great tools to help move the needle both with the team you are working with and the organization as a whole. Doing the pre-work, developing the team and creating / building solutions is great. One of the downsides of this process can be the outstanding action item list and even some of the items themselves.

When the action item list is too long, usually one of two situations are created:

Items do not get closed on time due to the work that the team normally does

Items don’t get done at all.

If these items will drive the ultimate results of the project, even if the work is great, the potential benefits will not be realized and, worse yet, the team does not see the benefit of the work. How do you overcome this?

What I have done in the past has been three-fold:

1. Set the expectation that there will be fewer than 6 action items left for the team or stakeholders to perform after the event is completed. This sets the guideline that get it done now or it won’t get done at all. This should be discussed with the sponsors and champions as well as the team so that items that don’t move during the event will not move any further. Also, ensure that the ancillary resources and SME’s are available as well during the week to ensure timing pilot testing and final solution implementation.

2. Use a PICK chart or benefit / effort matrix to force rank all the issues as well as the solutions. Potential, Immediate, Consider, and Kill. Kill should be the largest area if your matrix. This will help the team understand that there are usually only a critical few that need to be addressed.

3. After pilot testing or during the improvement stage, leave only 6 spots for open action items on the A3 or other project tool you are using. This will force rank only those items that will have a big impact and important enough to get completed. This list needs to be quantified on time, dollars and resources and stated succinctly and have the sponsor / champion state that each item will be resolved or not. This is their responsibility to carve out the resources, not the team member job to work late, fight over priorities or forced to put it off due to work demands. And if the sponsor / champion states that this will have to be eliminated, so be it. It is better that than the usual response that it will be no problem. In a couple of instances I have had the leadership sign-off on the item and they would be the ones contacted related to keeping the actions on track.

I realize nothing is fool-proof as well as the realities of business and the sometimes lacking strength of leadership related to these endeavors. I am sure there are better ways to ensure success but sometimes the best thing to hear is a “no” up front or at the report out instead of, “that’s no problem.” and the project withers on the vine.