Driving Continuous Improvement with Kaizen in 4 Steps
Driving Continuous Improvement with Kaizen in 4 Steps
Industry Insights
Driving Continuous Improvement with Kaizen in 4 Steps
Kaizen is a way to introduce lean into an operation in an effective and repeatable way. Look at 4 ways to look at Kaizen in the CI workflow.
March 23, 2020

Continuous improvement can bring about better efficiency, gains in market share through increased competitiveness, lower costs and improved employee morale.  And there are numerous programs and methodologies that are designed to bring these changes about.  One such approach is that of kaizen.  

First introduced as part of the Toyota Management System in the early 1980s, kaizen has become a proven way to introduce lean thinking as a methodology into many operations.  Taken from the Japanese word ‘kai” meaning ‘change’, and the Japanese word for ‘good’, which is ‘zen’, kaizen has helped transform organizations around the globe who seek to improve their processes and become more productive.

Defining Kaizen

But without context and application, kaizen is just a word.  For companies who have adopted it as a way of life, kaizen is much more than that.  Properly applied, kaizen brings process improvement, process control and quality gains to every corner of a business.  It does so by applying grassroots incremental improvements initiated and driven by front-line employees.  And in doing so, it changes the culture and value of the entire workforce.

Kaizen methodology strives to improve efficiency by improving team interaction, drawing on the knowledge of front-line employees and improving everyday processes.  It improves productivity by improving everyday procedures through an incremental and methodical process.  

Kaizen Objectives

Kaizen’s goal is to enact a series of small, continuous improvements over time.  These changes cumulatively add up to large improvements overall.  And it does this by making everyone in the organization a stakeholder whose ideas and in puts are valued.  This improves the culture and business performance of the company.

Among kaizen’s objectives are things such as:

  • Quality Control
  • Just-in-Time Delivery (JIT)
  • Standardized Work
  • Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)
  • Elimination of Waste

1. Kaizen Requirements

But what is needed to implement kaizen?  As a strict and methodical endeavor, it can’t be undertaken by a single department nor can it be driven by a single individual.  Instead, kaizen needs a commitment to implementation.  For this to happen, certain conditions or requirements are needed for the methodology to succeed.

  • Executive and Corporate Commitment – No methodology can succeed without a commitment form its leaders. The company must set aside time for both management and employees to participate at the comprehensive level required to succeed.
  • Dedication – Kaizen must be presented as a business strategy that will improve the bottom line and make conditions better at all job levels.  This buy-in among line employees and managers is just as important as executive buy-in.  It helps those at all levels understand its benefits and allows them to develop an attitude conducive to success.
  • Openness to Change – Change is hard in any company.  And the kind of cultural change brought about by a continuous improvement methodology can be especially daunting.  By constantly monitoring job duties and encouraging the right kind of employee interaction and interdepartmental communication, kaizen has a better chance to work.
  • A ‘No-Fault’ Approach – Kaizen requires that both group and individual performance be questioned.  This does not mean finger pointing or blame.  It simply means that employees are freed to discuss barriers and challenges that they have all witnessed as present in the past and gives them a forum and a method to work on a resolution.

2. Benefits of Kaizen Methodology

Once a company has decided on kaizen as a path to continuous improvement and has met the threshold for requirements that will allow it to succeed, there are many benefits to be found.  These benefits include:

  • Culture of Continuous Improvement – Perhaps no benefit is greater than the creation of a culture of continuous improvement.  By empowering employees to make the changes that drive incremental improvement, a culture of value and of knowing that individual opinions matter.  These include real changes and not just suggestions that go nowhere.  True deployment of kaizen methodology gives employees power to stop a production process and work as part of a team to find the root cause of a problem and develop a qualitative solution.  This feeling that everyone has a place and a voice and that everyone is a stakeholder can transform a culture into one of solid and well-functioning teams.
  • Stronger Teams – By building on the idea of teamwork rather than individualism, an atmosphere is created whereby everyone feels tied to the rewards and benefits of the improvement.  This creates a fully engaged staff who are mor motivated and more confident in their everyday jobs because they know that they are part of a group working toward the same goals – improving the process.  Teams are constantly working to improve as part of their daily work rather than team building done as a yearly or twice yearly ‘exercise’ by HR.  Staff members feel freer to communicate and the team becomes part of their ‘internal DNA’ – making teamwork ongoing rather than episodic.
  • Improved Productivity – Lean methodologies always focus on waste.  And waste is identified as anything that does not add value for the customer.  This may include collecting useless data, unnecessary movement due to inefficient tool and equipment setup, idle time created by staging, WIP and caterpillar effect upstream processes and others.  By identifying root cause and by crafting a solution that eliminates these and other forms of waste, productivity is increased, and the process of ‘work’ only includes those value steps that benefit the customer.
  • Reduced Defects and Improved Quality – A high level of defects points to the likelihood of broken processes.  Because rework is costly in terms of labor, material and missed deliveries, kaizen can work towards an environment of getting it right the first time.  Kaizen can build in problem solving and techniques that help identify root causes to problems.  Once this is identified, the process can be changed to eliminate the cause of errors.
  • Improved Competitive Advantage – With higher productivity, fewer defects and ongoing continued improvement, a company’s competitive advantage will improve.  This also has a multiplier effect because as the staff become more skilled in teamwork and application of kaizen methodology, they become more skilled at their jobs overall.  The process of continued improvement does not end after the achievement of goals.  Rather, it is ‘re-invested’ in the team who now move forward with sharpening and honing processes even further and in innovating new processes as they go.  These benefits cumulatively improve a company’s competitive advantage.

3. Breaking Down Barriers with Kaizen

Kaizen is a powerful set of tools that can help break barriers in traditional improvement methods.  One way it accomplishes this is by deploying grassroots thinking.  Every employee from frontline through management has a voice and a means to be heard.  And all can offer suggestions for improvement.  This is especially powerful for front-line employees who are often closer to the day to day problems that plague productivity than are the managers.  By making everyone a stakeholder and by allowing these suggestions from below, employees are more empowered.

Kaizen also helps break down information silos.  This is especially a concern in the digital age when technologies such as machine learning, advanced analytics and IoT technology are at the forefront of improvement.  Kaizen and other lean methodologies align excellently with these technologies to the point that companies cannot afford the silo their information.  Doing so would derail the digital and methodical process of continuous improvement.  Rather, companies can discover improved finance sots and better morale by standardizing and sharing data across the organization.

One major advantage of kaizen is that it can be tailored to meet the needs of large and small companies as well as those employed in manufacturing simple as well as complex products.  Kaizen is a mindset and a blend of both philosophy and process so that it can be molded to fit a company’s unique requirements.

4. Day to Day Kaizen

Kaizen is as simple as it is effective.  It can be boiled down to a four-step process that can be applied to any project and then applied within the same environment for further improvement.  It can also be used across multiple projects at once by deploying four steps called PDCA – or, Plan, Do, Check, Act.

  • Plan – Here the objective of the project or process to be improved is defined.
  • Do – In this stage the improvements are implemented and the changes to the process are made.
  • Check – This is the stage where results are evaluated, and opportunities are identified for further improvement.
  • Act – Here, adjustments are made in areas for continued improvement.

Kaizen is a way to introduce lean into an operation in an effective and repeatable way.  It helps companies identify and act on improvements to their process and fosters culture changes that allow the process to continue for further refinement.  And, it gives companies a safer, more satisfied workforce and customer base that ensures a stronger competitive advantage going forward.

Kaizen is extremely easy to implement and accomplish with WorkClout, if you're interested, book a demo here

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