Waikato Regional Council's KAIZEN™ Journey

By Daniel Houppermans – CI and Innovation Lead

Our search for a solution

The Business Excellence team began the search for a systematic approach that could be used to guide our organisational improvement efforts. We wanted something that could deliver both immediate results for Waikato Regional Council as well as sustained improvement over the long term. We required a framework and philosophy that placed our people at the heart of our efforts and could be adapted to suit our own unique culture. From our point of view, a successful solution would provide:

  1. a systematic approach for identifying improvement opportunities, measuring performance and monitoring progress;
  2. an engaged and empowered workforce;
  3. a set of simple, flexible, usable tools and methods to support staff in improvement efforts, tailored to the organisational environment. Tools alone would not have solved anything.

Piloting Lean with Kaizen Institute New Zealand

Following a review of options and learnings from other organisations we initiated a six-month pilot to help us to determine if KAIZEN™ was an appropriate fit for the organisation. During the pilot we focussed on both applying Daily KAIZEN™ and Breakthrough KAIZEN™ (projects), building capability in a small group of people to utilise KAIZEN™ principles in their daily work, as well as taking a process focus using value stream mapping to optimise some of our key work processes.

Feedback from participants in the pilot was positive and we soon had some success stories. A decision was reached to continue working with Kaizen Institute and to expand the approach that was established through the pilot. More teams and their respective leaders were trained and subsequently coached to foster the new KAIZEN™ behaviours acquired to sustain and further leverage improvements. Our Business Excellence and PMO team was coached and empowered by Kaizen Institute to become the Support KAIZEN™ mechanism in the council. Thereby we have supported teams, leaders and projects to change constantly for the better.

It would be a disservice to any organisation considering embarking on their own journey, to say that it was all smooth sailing. We had our difficulties and failures along the way, and it has been hard work. However, it has been the challenges and struggles that helped us to learn the fastest and enabled us to succeed sooner. The practise of continuous reflection on our performance (people and process) enabled us to improve the way we improve.

When did we know it was working?

For the Business Excellence team, an early indicator of success was a change in the language being used around the organisation. Slowly but surely we noticed that staff were beginning to incorporate the KAIZEN™ lexicon into their daily work and conversations. To walk down a corridor and overhear our people talking about eliminating waste in order to release staff capacity told us that the principles had stuck. People made the connection between continuously improving and their individual work practices.

By using KAIZEN™ as the foundation for our Continuous Improvement efforts, we’ve enabled staff to:

  • change their default daily mind-set by supporting thinking, decision-making, and behaviours based on the creation of value for the customer;
  • see the world differently through a lens which helps us closely examine and improve (incrementally or transform) our business practices;
  • engage with one another effectively by embedding ‘respect’ in all we do;
  • make a real difference by empowering all staff to identify and resolve problems, and to see and remove waste in their daily work and business processes.

How the Kaizen Institute helped us succeed

The Kaizen Institute was instrumental in setting us up for success, establishing appropriate expectations, providing effective support to the Business Excellence team, and instilling the discipline required to achieve results. A high calibre of professionalism, authenticity, and respect underpins the approach taken by the Kaizen Institute. Their hands-on training and coaching, together with their suite of resources, was of a very high standard and gave our people the confidence needed to have a go.

To date, approximately 200 staff have been trained in the fundamentals of Continuous Improvement, of whom many have gone on to lead or participate in 20+ value stream mapping projects. By building capability to lead throughout the organisation, we will ensure our efforts can be sustained in the longer term.

Becoming leaner is now a part of our journey here at Waikato Regional Council and will continue to underpin our efforts to be better every day.

Advice to others beginning their journey

  • Make measurement a primary focus very early on in your journey. A compelling part of your improvement journey will be evidence of the impact you’ve achieved across the business. We know that not everything that counts can be counted, but data will get you the support you need much sooner, even if it only tells a part of your story.
  • Adopt a long-term mind-set and be disciplined in your efforts to gain momentum and to see results. The meaning behind the word KAIZEN™ makes it clear that change for the better requires self-discipline and sacrifice. And while some immediate results are available, getting the most out of any Continuous Improvement programme requires a long-term commitment.
  • Enlist passionate leaders and influencers to help drive a focus on Continuous Improvement; this is especially important at the executive level where sustained commitment is necessary. These people should be the first to demonstrate the behaviours that you wish to see within others. In the absence of adequate engagement and support, any efforts will be short-lived at best.


I want to inspire those considering embarking on their own improvement journey. Success comes with good planning, commitment and hard work while building trusting relationships. Kaizen Institute New Zealand has proved to be a valuable partner to the council in its Continuous Improvement journey.

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