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What is Kaizen and Why Continuous Improvement Drives Results

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A key question that we’re often asked by clients is quite simply this – what is kaizen? Although some people are familiar with the term many are unsure exactly what it means. Is it a workplace process? A type of philosophy or approach to managing a business? Or the name of the person who came up with it?

It’s not surprising given the strangeness of the word – ‘Kaizen’ doesn’t really give much away about what it means. But if you’re interested in improving efficiency, competitive success, and increasing profitability, then Kaizen is something well-worth learning about. In this article, we answer the question ‘what is Kaizen?’ and look at how it can improve your business results.

The Definition of Kaizen

Kaizen is a term that refers to on-going or continuous improvement. The definition of kaizen comes from two Japanese words: ‘kai’ meaning ‘change’ and ‘zen’ meaning ‘good’. The Japanese philosophy was first introduced by Toyota back in the 1980s and has since been adopted by thousands of companies around the globe. This lean transformation encourages an improvement culture that gradually increases quality, efficiency, and profitability.

So, what is kaizen exactly? Well, it is statistical process control that improves quality in every aspect of your business. Employees are empowered to suggest ideas that address common problems so that they don’t reoccur. By tackling issues head-on, they aren’t allowed to persist and grow into bigger challenges. This grassroots approach delivers incremental improvements that add up to big wins.  This lean digital transformation has begun, saving frontline employees precious time and empowering them at the same time.

How Was Kaizen Developed?

Kaizen was made famous by the Japanese car manufacturing company, Toyota. In the 1980s, Toyota led the charge in developing a business process for catching issues in production as soon as they occurred. If something wasn’t right, then the entire production line would be shut down so that staff could identify a solution. This would then be implemented so that the problem didn’t occur again. Over time, these small improvements to the Toyota production system enabled it to become one of the most efficient and reliable in the world. As other companies sought to emulate Toyota’s results, they turned to the Kaizen philosophy as a way of replicating their success.

What Is Kaizen Helpful For (Benefits of Kaizen)?

The Kaizen approach is beneficial for a wide variety of business models and operational philosophies. It can improve work processes, eliminate waste, improves quality and increases the profitability of your company. Although it’s not a quick-fix, implementing Kaizen can lead to consistent and long-term growth. Let’s look at some of the ways that Kaizen can improve the workplace and overall business results.

Continual Improvement for Your Product & Services

Implementing the Japanese philosophy to business results in product and service improvements. You’re able to address those tiny issues that affect product quality, leading to returns and replacement costs. As a result of quality improvements, customer satisfaction increases because they experience fewer negative issues. This enhances your brand’s reputation and results in priceless word of mouth, which leads to increases in sales volumes and revenues.

Delivers a Competitive Advantage

In modern business, it can sometimes be tough to maintain a clear advantage over your competitors. If they have greater investment behind them or are more agile when it comes to innovation, you might struggle to stay ahead of the pack. But lean kaizen can give you a distinct advantage over others in your industry and establish you as the dominant leader. You can establish the root cause of how to increase productivity. By improving your quality, productivity, and efficiency, you can extend a lead that others are unable to match (no matter how much money they invest in R&D or marketing). This process improvement mindset also results in an up-skilled workforce, which creates long-term value for your company.

Encourages Grassroots Thinking

Kaizen isn’t a process that only affects management. It’s implemented by frontline employees in the company, no matter what their role or seniority. Over time, employees begin to think in different ways about how they approach their daily tasks. It encourages staff to take the initiative and suggest improvements to how things are done, instead of feeling powerless in their roles. As these ideas are taken on board and the results come to fruition, they begin to see the value and impact of their input. This makes frontline employees more inclined to provide additional feedback that continues to benefit the company. It’s common for employees at a grassroots level to understand issues more clearly than upper management because they deal with or solve them every day. This makes them better suited to finding practical solutions so it’s vital to get them engaged.

A Culture of Continual Improvement

Businesses that implement Kaizen usually have a highly-engaged workforce. By improving the company processes and products, they also improve the culture too. Employees are empowered to make changes and know that their opinions matter. They understand that their contributions can result in a meaningful change which helps to create a sense of fulfillment. This filters throughout the organization and results in a positive shared culture and more enjoyable place to work.

Avoids Information Silos

One thing that companies often struggle with is siloed thinking. Information isn’t communicated between different departments or managerial levels which leads to frustration on all sides. Breakdowns in communication can have costly results, both in terms of finances and morale. But Kaizen opens up these channels and facilitates more productive interactions between teams. People are encouraged to share ideas and suggestions so that it becomes a natural part of daily work life. This leads to greater collaboration and increased trust between departments.

Boosts Workplace Productivity

Productivity is under the microscope in almost every business. When times get tough, we’re encouraged to achieve bigger results with fewer resources. It can seem like an uphill battle and a constant source of pressure. But Kaizen enables you to improve productivity by increasing your efficiency. Fewer quality issues and product returns boost the overall output of the organization. Improvements in company culture and employee engagement mean that staff are naturally inclined to put more into their work. This results in the kind of productivity that can’t be forced through reprimands or bought with bonuses.

Enhances Creativity

Companies are often looking for more creative ways to approach challenges in business. But the very nature of creativity means there’s no rule book or instructions to follow, so fostering it in the workplace can be tricky. However, the Kaizen work approach encourages staff to think creatively on a daily basis. It requires them to come up with solutions to unexpected issues as they arise and teaches them how to think outside of the box. This creates a culture of creativity where people are empowered to come up with new ideas and share them openly.

Improves Teamworking

The improvements to company culture, removal of siloed thinking, and encouragement of grassroots initiative all contribute to greater teamworking. Staff are more inclined to communicate and collaborate with others as they strive to improve the company. Instead of relying on team-building days twice a year, Kaizen delivers a constant teamwork initiative that drives meaningful results. By harnessing the power of cross-functional collaboration, you’ll develop a strong and resilient workforce.

What Is Kaizen Going to Look Like Day-To-Day?

Implementation of kaizen is part philosophy and part process, which can make it hard to imagine in day-to-day terms. Does it mean endless meetings? Lots of training before we can implement it? Extra paperwork and admin tasks? The good news is, implementing Kaizen doesn’t have to be complicated. It can work in harmony with your existing setup and be tailored to meet your precise needs.

The Kaizen process can be summarized down to just four steps: PDCA – Plan Do Check Act. Here’s a quick overview of what each step entails:

Plan – define your objective and how you’ll achieve it.
Do – implement the plan and make any changes required to ensure it works.
Check – evaluate the results and identify opportunities for improvement.
Act – make adjustments based on what’s found in the previous step.

By taking this PDCA approach to workplace projects, you can maximize their efficiency and improve their final outcomes. If a Kaizen event does occur, then you take immediate steps to address it and brainstorm ideas for preventing its reoccurrence. If it’s something particularly serious or resource-intensive, then a Kaizen blitz may be required.

How Does It Compare With Other Improvement Processes?

You might also be wondering how the Kaizen definition compares with other continuous improvement tools. Gemba walks and the 3M’s are both popular methods for identifying ongoing improvement. So, what are the key differences and which tools are most suitable for your business needs?

Kaizen Vs Gemba Walks & 3M’s

Gemba walks and the 3M’s can both used as part of Kaizen, Lean Six Sigma practices, and Kanban processes. Gemba walks involve interacting with staff at the location where they do their work (not an office or meeting room). They are an informal method of data collection that enable management to learn from frontline employees in a structured way.

These walks are ideal for identifying opportunities for improvement as managers can see issues and hear feedback first hand. However, Gemba walks alone do not provide a framework for taking action so they need to be combined with some kind of follow-up process. This makes them a useful tool but not a complete solution for continuous improvement.

The 3M’s are short for ‘Muri, Mura, and Muda’ which are three forms of deviation. They were identified as part of the Toyota lean production system and are common sources of problems. These terms refer to overburden, irregularities, and waste, which cause issues for organizations that are striving for lean production. They make the supply chain inefficient so identifying them can boost productivity and minimize wastage. Like Gemba walks, they are one piece of the puzzle but not a complete solution or process.

In Summary

So now we’ve addressed the key question that many businesses ask us – what is Kaizen? It’s a philosophical and process-oriented concept that’s transforming companies around the world. Kaizen efforts drive company value and can impact numerous elements of an organization, including efficiency, quality, safety, lean manufacturing, and culture. It’s about leveraging the ideas and problem-solving abilities of your staff to maximize the results of your business.

Implementation of Kaizen leans out your business process extending to information sharing, creativity, and teamworking. It can also be pivotal in securing competitive advantage and maintaining the lead in your industry. If your business is struggling with any of these aspects, then adopting Kaizen may just be the answer.

How We Can Help

Rever is all about sharing and reusing, doing and tracking. Continuous improvement becomes a hundred times easier with our innovative digital platform. Using Rever’s dashboard, you can monitor the performances of your teams, the summary of their impact, and easily identify the people making the biggest difference at your company.

Rever Cycle is our version of the PDCA methodology and guides your teams on the exact steps to follow to execute their own ideas. It allows them to capture the entire process, from identifying a problem to experimenting and implementing a solution. They can use it to capture the before and after with pictures, notes and drawings, making their ideas a reality in no time. The time of your team is too valuable to be wasted in handmade drawings and complex explanations.

At Rever, we believe that anybody can be a knowledge worker and thrive. What makes us human is the capacity to grow our intellect and will, and to use them for good. We observe, especially at work, that most people are asked to stop thinking and do as they are told. We want to change that. We enable people, teams and large scale corporations to achieve their full creative potential.

Interested in learning more? Then request a demo with one of our friendly team members today!


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