Kaizen is a Japanese word that means “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” It is a philosophy that focuses on continuously improving all areas of a business, from manufacturing to management and from the CEO to the assembly line workers.
Kaizen involves making changes in a business process, monitoring the results, and then adjusting as necessary. It often involves small, incremental improvements rather than big, radical changes. The concept encourages employees at all levels of the company to contribute ideas for improvement.
The core principles of Kaizen include:
- Good processes bring good results.
- Go see for yourself to grasp the current situation.
- Speak with data and manage by facts.
- Take action to correct root causes of problems.
- Work as a team.
- Kaizen is everybody’s business.
The Kaizen approach was popularized by Toyota’s production system, which is considered a major contributor to the company’s high-quality and efficiency standards. It’s a common element of lean manufacturing methodologies and can be applied to any area of business, including production, logistics, procurement, and customer service.
Kaizen can lead to better quality, improved efficiency, higher employee satisfaction, and a stronger competitive position in the marketplace. However, it requires a company-wide commitment to continual learning and improvement, and the ability to change and adapt as necessary.
Example of Kaizen
Here’s an example of Kaizen in practice at a fictional car manufacturing plant:
At this plant, an assembly line worker notices that they spend a lot of time reaching for a particular tool they use frequently. They propose a change: rearranging the workspace so that this tool is always within easy reach. The worker’s supervisor likes the idea, and they try it out.
With the tool now conveniently located, the worker spends less time reaching for it, which speeds up the assembly process and reduces physical strain on the worker. These improvements might seem small, but when you multiply them by the number of times the worker reaches for the tool in a day, and then by the number of workers using the same tool, the overall efficiency gain can be significant.
After this change is implemented, the results are monitored and it’s found that the assembly line’s productivity has increased without any negative impacts on quality. So, the change is made permanent and applied to other areas where it could be beneficial.
The key here is the continuous cycle of incremental improvements. The process doesn’t stop with one change. Workers are encouraged to keep looking for ways to improve efficiency, and the most successful changes are implemented across the whole company. This is the essence of the Kaizen philosophy: ongoing, incremental improvements involving everyone in the organization.