Kaizen Continuous Improvement
Fundamental to Kaizen continuous improvement is the philosophical belief that everything can be improved. When using this approach, incremental changes gradually add up to substantial changes over the long term.
Change and implementing improvements occur in an organization and its business processes via various routes.
It may be:
- Via a major initiative.
- Is part of the ongoing way your employees work.
- It may be reactive when a nonconformity is discovered and corrective action is taken.
Some types of change inevitably require that a major project be undertaken. This normally means upheaval, big budgets, and months of hard work.
A complementary or alternative approach to improve processes and systems would involve ongoing, more subtle changes. This approach results in gradual improvement and is often overlooked and undervalued.
One way you could use to implement incremental continuous improvement is through kaizen. The word kaizen means “change (kai) for the good (zen)” and it originated in Japan.
With Kaizen, incremental changes gradually add up to substantial changes over the long term. This continuous improvement process also means that radical innovation is not required. It is a much more employee-friendly and gentle way to implement the changes that must happen in every business as it grows and adapts to the environment.
How Does the Kaizen Approach Work?
As kaizen is not a specific tool but rather a philosophy, the approach is found in many process-improvement methods. These range from the use of employee suggestion boxes to Total Quality Management (TQM). All employees are responsible for identifying inefficiencies and gaps with kaizen. Everyone, at all levels in the organization, is expected to suggest where improvements can be made.
This approach is proactive rather than the reactive process which happens when nonconformities are identified and then addressed.
Kaizen’s aim is to improve safety, effectiveness, and productivity. Companies that follow the kaizen approach however also often unlock several other benefits. These include:
- Improved employee satisfaction – they can have an impact on how things are done.
- Reduced waste – employee skills are used more efficiently, as is inventory.
- Better employee retention – engaged and satisfied employees tend to stay at an organization much longer.
- Improved commitment – as team members have a bigger stake in their jobs, more will be inclined to contribute to their role fully.
- Improved customer satisfaction – due to higher-quality products with fewer faults.
- More competitive – efficiency increases often lead to higher-quality products and lower costs.
- Stronger teams – working together to solve problems builds and strengthens teams.
- Better problem solving – employees can solve problems by continuously looking at processes from a solutions perspective.
Kaizen Focusses on Continuous Improvement Efforts Including Waste Reduction
Muda is another Japanese term often associated with kaizen. It means waste.
Kaizen is about decreasing waste by:
- Improving quality
- Eliminating overproduction
- Having less idle time
- Being more efficient
- Reducing unnecessary activities.
All the above will eliminate waste, resulting in cost savings that may convert losses into profits.
Kaizen was originally developed to improve processes in the manufacturing environment. It is one of the elements attributed to Japan’s competitive success in manufacturing through low costs and high quality. However, the kaizen approach’s benefits can be achieved in many other working environments, both on a personal level and for your whole team or organization.
Much of kaizen’s focus is on reducing “waste,” and this waste can take numerous forms:
- Time – spent waiting i.e., this time adds no value.
- Movement – having to move materials around before additional value can be added.
- Overprocessing – doing more to the product than is required to give the customer the best value for money.
- Defects – which require extra work to fix or mean that products must be discarded.
- Variations – using bespoke solutions when a standard one will meet the requirements.
Examples Of Forms of Waste in An Office Environment
- Having to search unnecessarily for documents because there isn’t an efficient filing system.
- Waiting for people who arrive at meetings late.
- Opening a database or file to find key phone numbers used regularly, when it may be faster to print them and stick them on a wall.
- “Mental” movement is also a type of waste, where people switch from one job to another, before the first job is complete and become distracted.
- People having to move between buildings for face-to-face meetings when virtual meetings may serve the same purpose.
- Having more people attend meetings than is required.
- Spending time to add color to a report or document that’s meant to be printed in black and white.
- Reading material in more detail than is required.
- A manager having to rewrite a report because a junior staff member wasn’t fully briefed or trained to do it.
- Discarding or redoing work due to inadequate research, or because it was performed before authorization was granted.
- Producing a new report when an existing one could easily be modified to suit the requirements.
- Creating new documents when a standard template could be set up and used.
How To Use Kaizen to Make Incremental Improvements
We suggest using the following approach for the kaizen process for your continuous improvement process, either with your team or on your own:
- Keep a log of things that appear inefficient or that you would like to improve. These are often spotted while you’re busy with something else, only to be forgotten later.
- Spend time regularly to identify areas where the way that you or your team members operate causes “waste”. Use the log as input, but also think about the overall way of working and the bigger picture and. Use the list of waste types above as a checklist. How could you eliminate or reduce each form of waste?
- Plan out when you’ll make the changes. You need to find the balance between making improvements immediately so that the waste doesn’t increase or get worse and preventing “change overload.”
- It’s important to consider any confusion or difficulties that a change may cause for others. This could lead to them resisting that change.
- Whenever changes to be made will affect others, ensure that you consult them about the changes, and listen to their concerns and comments.
As an individual, you can benefit from Kaizen quickly. Embracing it with a team will however take a concentrated effort.
Kaizen Implementation Suggestions
These suggestions to help you to make kaizen work with a team:
- With your team, learn about the kaizen philosophy and how continuous improvement efforts can benefit your company.
- Define and establish the overall kaizen controls and approach and create a system that everyone understands.
- Allow everyone to submit improvement suggestions.
- Reward ideas. The more ideas are generated, the more kaizen will work in the day-to-day actions of the team.
The Kaizen mindset is a philosophy that promotes incremental continuous process changes that sustain a high efficiency level.
It can help to improve the way you personally work by reducing or eliminating various types of “waste.”
Kaizen can also be used across an organization-wide approach to harness suggestions and support from people at all levels.
General participation can improve both satisfaction and morale, as well as costs, production numbers, and other hard measures.
When used properly, the Kaizen approach will reveal the significant improvements small changes can make.
It should be noted that the Kaizen approach does not replace NCR software ISO, but rather supplements it.