Lean FAQs

  1. What can Lean do for my agency?

  2. Lean helps organizations to streamline how work gets done and eliminate waste. Through the use of Lean tools your agency can:
    • Eliminate or dramatically reduce backlogs
    • Reduce lead times by more than 50%
    • Decrease the complexity of processes
    • Improve the quality of applications and consistency of reviews or inspections
    • Free up more staff time for "mission critical" work
    • Improve staff morale and process transparency

  3. How is a Kaizen project selected?

  4. The process should be large-volume, follow the same steps each time, and be a core business activity. Specific projects should be evaluated on their potential impact on customers and citizens, and on internal effectiveness or efficiency. Sample criteria include:

    • Funding concerns
    • Customer service complaints
    • Productivity problems
    • High volume and/or criticality

  5. How far in advance do I need to plan to hold a Kaizen event? What steps are involved?

  6. Schedule your event three to four months in advance if possible (see Schedule an Event). Begin the planning and preparation six weeks prior to the event (see the Kaizen Event Preparation Checklist under Resources).

  7. Who participates on a Kaizen team?

  8. Ensure cross-functional members are on the team. Remember the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 Rule:
    • 1/3 who work directly on or are close to the process
    • 1/3 who are somewhat touched by the process
    • 1/3 who have no knowledge of the process, i.e., external stakeholders/customers
    The ideal team has 12 members, although larger teams may be accommodated as necessary.

  9. How long is a Kaizen event?

  10. Kaizen events do not last more than 4 ½ days (Monday morning through Friday morning). There is a half-day pre-event meeting held two to six weeks prior to the event and 30, 60 and 90-day, 6 month and 1 year follow-up meetings.
    To view a schedule of a typical week-long event, see a sample agenda under Resources.


  11. What are the expectations of Kaizen team members?

  12. Team members are expected to attend the entire event and fully participate by providing input and ideas. Team members are also expected to complete assignments identified during the meeting or tasks that may be defined after the event. A list of ground rules includes guidelines for team member participation. See Team Ground Rules under Resources.

  13. What is the role of a sponsor?

  14. The critical role of a team sponsor is to support the team, both during and after the event. See the Sponsor Contract under Resources.
    To ensure team success a sponsor must be:

    • Passionate
      • Enthusiastic support of the team
    • Strategic
      • Utilizing the event activity to advance a business objective by improving the performance of the targeted process while being aware of the impact to the total system
    • Committed
      • Engaged from pre-event planning through sustainment
    • Willing to Take Risks
      • Encourage creative thinking to drive paradigm breaking results
    • Open Minded
      • Influence the team to develop the best solution without introducing pre-conceived ideas

    During the week of the event the sponsor must support the team through:
    • Event Kick off
      • Communicate expectations to the team
      • Set the direction
    • Be visible during the event
    • Attend Team Leader Update Meetings
      • Redirect if needed
      • Challenge the team
      • Assist in removing roadblocks

  15. What is a team charter?

  16. A team charter sets out the scope of the process that will be undergoing the kaizen, establishes the goals and objectives of the event, identifies any work that must be completed prior to the event, and identifies the team members. See a sample team charter under Resources.

  17. What is leadership's role in Lean?

  18. Senior management engagement and commitment is the most important factor in long-term success. Lean is a top-down drive to change the culture to one of continuous improvement.

  19. What is an employee's role in Lean?

  20. Even if you are not directly involved on the team, you may be asked questions by team members to clarify your part in the process. Team members may observe and time you while you complete a step in the process, or discuss the time necessary to complete a step. Events are performed under the assumption that everyone involved is already doing their best – but with some assistance, efforts can be altered to reduce steps, delays, and time, with no loss of performance or quality.

  21. How can I learn more about Lean?

  22. To learn more about Lean, check out the suggested reading list in our library under the Resources page.

  23. Can Lean result in staff reductions?

  24. No. Lean is never used to eliminate staff positions. It is possible that an individual's job duties may change due to a change in the process.

  25. What is the difference between Lean and process improvement?

  26. Lean is a process improvement methodology.

  27. What is the difference between Lean and Six Sigma?

  28. Lean accelerates the speed of any process by eliminating waste in all its forms. Six Sigma identifies defects in quality and eliminates variation. The two methodologies interact and reinforce each other.

  29. How can I become involved?

  30. Many agencies designate an individual to coordinate Lean activities for the department. You may ask your supervisor about ways you can learn more about Lean or contact your agency’s coordinator for information about upcoming learning opportunities or events. For a list of coordinators see Contacts.

  31. How can people who don't work in a specific process area understand something so complex in a week?

  32. The team will learn the steps in the process, not how to conduct the process. The process will be laid out visually to make it easier to understand the sequence and how steps are interrelated.

  33. Will the recommendations be rigid or able to change in the future if they fail or cause unintended consequences?

  34. The team does not make recommendations – it designs an improved and tested process ready for implementation. Adjustments, if needed, may be made later.

  35. What guarantees do we have that this will actually help the process?

  36. Kaizen is a proven methodology used to break through barriers and cut through bureaucracy, helping teams reach their goals.

  37. Does kaizen sacrifice the quality of a process by speeding it up?

  38. This is not about loosening regulations or commitment to quality. Teams are looking for efficiencies in workflow, paper processing, number of steps in a process, etc. In fact, the goal of Lean is to enhance the ability to carry out the agency mission by shifting more time and resources to core mission activities.

  39. How does Lean relate to the Accountable Government Act?

  40. The Accountable Government Act creates a performance management system designed to help agencies systematically plan, measure, analyze and report what they do achieve better results for Iowans. When gaps in performance are identified Lean strategies can be implemented to streamline service delivery and improve customer service.