Kaizen / Continuous Improvement
What is Kaizen?
Kaizen means continuous improvement.
The origin of the word is from Japanese:
- Kai: reduce, set aside, modify or change
- Zen: judge, do well or do better
Kaizen is the central learning tool in all companies and involves continuous improvement in work practices, staff efficiency, and the arrangement of desks within the office.
This shows that Kaizen not only focuses on the production sector but also involves other departments. People can also implement it in their social, personal, and home life. That said, we can define Kaizen as follows:
It is a job that involves every member of the business and everyone must contribute to continually improve. The continuous keyword is because this is an effort that workers use repeatedly to raise the standards of the company.
So, to do Kaizen, you must have a certain attitude, it is necessary to place yourself in a moment and a mental state.
Companies and people who learn to change are prepared for what comes in the future.
7 principles of Kaizen
- Deny the “status quo”.
- Seek improvement before perfection.
- Seek to eliminate the true causes of the problems.
- Verify the facts at the scene.
- Involve all staff.
- Improve without investing money.
- Act immediately.
Toyota was the first that implement it in its production process with the help of quality control circles after World War II. For Japan, this implementation influenced professionals in the United States.
A quality control circle comprises all workers who carry out similar or equal work, who meet to find and analyze problems related to this work.
This concept gained popularity in Japan in the 1950s, although it now exists under a different name: Kaizen group.
The term Kaizen became popular thanks to Masaaki Imai, a renowned Japanese consultant. In 1985 he founded the Kaizen Institute, which helped Western companies introduce Kaizen concepts, systems, and tools.
Currently, Kaizen is one of the most important pillars in the success of organizations.
Why do Kaizen?
The only companies that survive are those that learn.
Kaizen is a way of distributing learning throughout the company, every day.
A big problem within companies is that their focus is on wanting to increase productivity by focusing on small aspects and not seeing the whole picture. Luckily for us, Kaizen seeks to break this trend and make people more productive.
7 benefits of Kaizen
- Organizational culture: this system of shared values and beliefs guides how individuals behave in a company.
- Human resources: are the members that comprise the workforce, its economy, or business sector.
- Reduce waste: much of it falls on the skills of the employees. These professionals primarily focus on reducing waste to the minimum.
- People are more satisfied: because employees directly impact the way things are done, it directly affects people by meeting their needs.
- Higher and better engagement: employees star to work better. As they do this, their dedication to their work also increases.
- Better problem solving: Your main job is to minimize problems and maximize process efficiency. Therefore, observing the processes, they start to solve problems continuously.
- Suggestions for improvement: provide methods to improve the business.
What are the steps to implement Kaizen?
Identify a problem
For this, all the employees of the company must give feedback. To do this, workers register all the processes within the organization that require improvement. Sometimes these problems come from:
- The customer service department
- The production department
- The finance department
- Any other that needs improvements.
The best thing to start working on is to list the problems, and if there are many, it can facilitate the work to reduce it to the top 10.
Immediately afterward, you should work on them, one by one. Kaizen is an ongoing process, and it will come back to the other problems later. You need to start with a handful of problems, and then continue to improve by focusing on bigger problems.
Gather the facts
To implement Kaizen in an organization, you need to involve employees and motivate them. Then create an optimal workplace that is not resistant to change. Knowing the problem mentioned is the first step, it is important to collect the necessary information regarding the problem.
To do this, there needs to be full cooperation of the employees and communication between management and workers. Kaizen has the concept of quality circles mentioned earlier in the History of Kaizen. The ones that are of great help to complete this step, are those that are designed for the employees of the different departments.
Analyze the system
Once the problems are understood and the appropriate data is collected for them, the systems start to analyze them.
One way to do this is for managers to create teams of experienced and creative employees who focus on analyzing the situation. They must have a specific time to analyze the problems.
Also, keep in mind that the time window is critical. Afterward, the solutions must be noted, using the experience of management and direction, and that of the employees. Make a list of the most sensible suggestions.
Develop a solution
Once the above steps have been done, it is time to search for an appropriate solution. Groups of managers and employees that work in the analysis step can also be operated in this step.
The main objective is to improve the company. As in the analysis, the time in this step is critical. It is now when the points explained in the list with the suggestions come into hand.
Implement the solution
When you are in the implementation process, it is best to start small. This is because it is the best way to test new theories, especially for large companies. Many people are delayed in this step because they overthink things. They think about making big changes instead of taking small steps.
For the implementation it is necessary to follow a plan, and if new ideas arise, not carry them out and wait to present them on paper together with the team. However, a planned and controlled implementation is important for an idea, as the results can be monitored.
Verify the results
Now, the last step in the process is to verify the implementation and its results.
In the implementation, it is best to make sure if it is being done from the bottom up. Executives must be aware of the task and know which employer works with it, so the team leader can explain the progress directly. From time to time, audits are necessary. Finding the results is the main objective of the whole exercise.
When to do Kaizen?
- Competitive environment
- Margin issues
How to do Kaizen?
- PDCA: The Deming Cycle
- Links to Quality Route, DMAIC and The 4 Questions
- Links to Quality Content Hub and Productivity Content Hub
We are not always clear about the best place to start making improvements in the company, but below you may find some general guidance:
Improvement workshops or Kaizen events are scheduled events that are held exclusively to solve a specific problem. The event facilitator is in charge of selecting the team, which must have relevant experience in the problem to be capable of solving it.
You should only focus on one problem and not want to cover more in a Kaizen event. After forming the team, the facilitator should propose a specific agenda to do the 8 steps of the quality route.
Such a Kaizen event can last from 1 to 5 days. Once this period and the workshop have elapsed, the participants of the event return to their normal activities in the company.
We must always make clear the activities that employees have to ensure that the improvements are permanent in the organization.
The advantages of doing a Kaizen workshop are that we have a dedicated multidisciplinary team that knows the process and the problem, and it is 100% focused on solving it.
The famous quality circles are perhaps the best-known way of doing Kaizen in a company. It consists in organizing small workgroups that have within their daily responsibilities to carry out small improvement events. Quality circles are also made by following the eight steps of the quality path.
The main difference between a quality circle and a Kaizen workshop is how the groups are formed and the type of problems that are solved.
Unlike quality circles, Kaizen workshops are done to solve a specific problem. The teams are unique and are designed according to the skills and experiences of the participants and the problem to be solved. Once the project is finished, the Kaizen workshop team disband and continues with their life in the company.
In the case of quality circles, the teams are maintained throughout the different projects carried out. Usually, the teams are made up of colleagues who work in the same work area and who dedicate some time from their predetermined schedule to improve.
For a quality circle program to be successful, the keys are that the workers properly follow the objectives and the strategies. One of the main objectives that are obtained when organizing a strategy of quality circles within the company, is that we ensure the growth of the employees.
We put them to investigate, propose and implement new strategies that may or may not be successful for our business, but ultimately help us to bring many other benefits to raise staff morale and this will surely be relevant in the productivity of the company.
It is the simplest way we can start to involve staff in the improvement journey. Following strategies like this one helps us not to compromise time. The suggestion program consists of setting general improvement objectives for the entire organization and opening the doors to receive all kinds of suggestions to solve these problems.
Rewards to workers are not always necessary. If you decide to offer them, they must be small rewards, something like making a personal note, visits to the people who proposed the improvements, or something like that.
People love to feel that our work is valuable and that we are important for the effort we make. We love making sense of the company. If we can reinforce this feeling, we will be able to implement such a program with great success, but where do we start?
Surely you have any doubts about the best way to start doing Kaizen in your company. Being the philosophy of continuous improvement, we recommend you start with the simplest step.
Improvement efforts vary widely. Even more for a work culture that encourages talking about problems and making them evident.
If so, perhaps the best way to start improvement efforts is with a suggestion program. Or maybe you have a highly trained team that has not found the time to work as a team, and therefore, the best way is to start with Kaizen workshops every two months. So this varies a lot from business to business.
Tip: start with a very small step and once it works, take the next one.
Remember that the key to doing Kaizen is doing Kaizen. Improvement is not something that is studied, it is something that is done.
Kaizen is the only tool that has stood the test of time. In the future, the companies that will survive are those that learn to improve. We can all do Kaizen.