How does Kaizen work?

Kaizen might be performed on a daily basis and goes beyond improving productivity. Employees are encouraged to use scientific methods to improve their own tasks to make things more efficient. Some businesses use daily Kaizen. Some business use Kaizen events. Other businesses use a combination of the two.

Daily Kaizen

Daily kaizen is something everyone can participate in as a part of daily work. When someone sees an abnormality, he or she can decide whether that abnormality is the result of standards not being followed or the result of an inadequate standard. Then the person can think about ways for improving the current situation. These ideas can be simple and often they can be tested out pretty easily. Most kaizen ideas are low cost and low risk, so when an idea doesn't pan out, it's not the end of the world. People can follow these basic steps for carrying out daily kaizen:

  • Come up with an improvement idea or identify a problem.
  • Discuss the situation with co-workers or a supervisor.
  • Try out the idea, possibly using the PDCA cycle or scientific method.
  • Make notes about whether the idea was successful; if it was, take steps to make it the new standard for work.
  • Share the success with the team, department, and organization.

Kaizen & Lean Manufacturing

Kaizen ideas can be about any part of work processes. They can involve machines, people, tools, cleanliness, organization, 5S practices, safety, the layout of the workspace, and more. Examples of simple ideas:

  • Add floor markings to a warehouse aisle so boxes never encroach on the walkway. This simple visual cue can make the space easier to navigate.
  • Relocate a tool so the person using it doesn't have to move as far to obtain it. This reduces excess motion.
  • Label the locations of items on a workbench so it's easy to see where they should be stored when not in use.
  • Add re-ordering information to bins on a supply shelf so materials can quickly be replenished. (This type of information is sometimes included on the cards used in Kanban systems that may control production in Lean facilities.)

People should try to fix abnormalities first and then focus on improvement. (The SDCA cycle and then the PDCA cycle.) Everyone should be encouraged to come up with ideas, and businesses should be open to ideas, even if they may not seem like the best ideas. By participating in the continuous improvement process regularly, people will learn what kinds of ideas are most useful and best serve the goals of the organization. Over time, kaizen becomes a part of daily work, not something separate from it.

People learn to think about fixing problems and making improvements as they perform work tasks. When kaizen is new in an organization, though, steps should be taken to get everyone started. Two main options exist for fitting kaizen into normal activities:

  • Suggest workers use their spare time. When they're waiting for a delivery, an equipment repair, or anything else that leads to downtime, that time can be used for kaizen.
  • Budget kaizen time. Schedule a short period during each shift when people will think about continuous improvement.

Eventually, a designated time for kaizen may not be necessary, as everyone will begin to find ideas emerge from work.


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