Kaizen is the process of continuous improvement in the workplace and is also known as “change for the better.” It is a foundational concept to Lean manufacturing and refers to the practice of continually seeking out ways to improve work operations. Improvements may range from direct cost savings, enhanced functionality, and higher customer satisfaction. Eventually, Kaizen is seamlessly implemented into the day-to-day workplace. Introduced to the western world decades ago, Kaizen is currently recognized worldwide as an important aspect to an organization’s long-term competitive and success strategy.
Continuous improvement requires participation from employers, management, and employees. All people within the organization are responsible for discovering and implementing improvement opportunities. This way, small, incremental changes take place that improve the workplace over time, and workers’ opinions and knowledge are respected. Everyone should feel comfortable making suggestions and should have faith in their performance.
To process Kaizen, all employees should know how to practice continuous improvement. Kaizen is accomplished through six steps:
- Identify a problem. First, clarify what is wrong. Observe waste or potential for improvement during personal day-to-day operations or within the work area in general. Develop a mindset around continual improvement so this becomes an aspect of daily tasks.
Analyze the problem. Consider the facts, and determine the root cause/core of the issue. You may use the 5 Whys here to help. These may be done individually or as part of a fishbone diagram. For example:
Problem: The weekly newsletter was not sent on time.
- Why? Updates were not implemented before the deadline.
- Why? The designer struggled to complete new features.
- Why? The designer was unsure how to accomplish some of those features.
- Why? They were unfamiliar with these features and were uncomfortable seeking help from their coworkers.
- Why? When they attempted to get help in the past, they were criticized for it.
- Problem: The weekly newsletter was not sent on time.
- Develop a solution. This may require a conducting a brainstorming session or quality circle in which groups of employees come together to discuss the problem and find an answer for improvement. Techniques for stimulating original ideas may be applied.
- Implement the idea. Create a plan and a schedule for the realization of the solution you have come up with. When timing is appropriate, carry out the solution. Communicate your plan of action to any other employees who are affected by the problem, or who participated in the brainstorming session.
- Observe results. Evaluate the process, difficulties, and success of the new method. Verify the actual level of improvement that is accomplished. Has the problem been completely removed so it no longer occurs? Or has its extent merely been lessened?
- Standardize and monitor for the future. Provide standards so that the practice may be followed and completed again for similar problems. Follow up shortly to ensure that the success or gains from the improvement are sustained into the long term.
Practicing Kaizen leads to a more productive, efficient, and safe environment. Benefits include smoother operations, higher quality products, lower costs, improved customer service, and more positive employee morale. When the process outlined above is established in your workplace, you are likely to see a difference over time.
Similar Glossary Terms
- Kaizen – Defined
- Strategic Planning Process
- Process Mapping
- Quality Control Circle
- Statistical Process Control (SPC)
- Continuous Improvement