Kaizen is the Japanese word for “improvement”. The word is composed by two kanji ideograms: 改 and 善. The first one (Kai) means “change” or “to repair”, the second one (Zen) means “good” or “beneficial”. It’s a wonderful way to understand any improvement process in your company operation: “a change aimed at reaching benefits”. This post is about the concept of Kaizen and how to implement it in your business for achieving excellence.
Kaizen management philosophy, as a business concept, evolved after World War II as a way to get ahead in the rebuilding process of the Japanese economy. It has been a crucial factor of success for important companies, such as Toyota, Toshiba and Sony. One of the best advantages of Kaizen is that it not only applies to quality and / or mass production processes, it’s useful to improve the way a business work in all areas: service and customer care, human resources, marketing, sales, distribution, security, logistics, inventories, purchasing and the rest of stages of the supply chain.
But why implementing Kaizen, if the way I have been doing things is already functional? Well, as a business manager, you may know the importance of updating. In previous posts I have mentioned that it’s irrelevant how much time you have been working in the industry you are in, a lack of update will give your competitors free way for surprising your own clients with better offers. It’s about never giving competitiveness for granted. Implementing Kaizen will give you different perspectives to analyze problems, to solve them and to take executive choices.
Its primary goal is to improve for giving customers the maximum added value of your products or services, through the continuous and systematic enhancement of all processes and skills of a company and its employees. The second goal is the elimination of all obstacles that hinder the fast, effective, efficient and safe use of the company resources.
The Kaizen strategy it’s about getting a little better every day, to produce small and constant improvements that mean a huge difference in the end. Complacency is enemy number one.
How to implement Kaizen in your business
Before implementing Kaizen it’s very important that you as a manager learn how to adopt new concepts, to start to operate the whole machine from different politics. Remember this: people don’t like changes. They will always complain about how things were better before you started to modify the way to do things in your own company. However, you, as a leader, know better than anyone that adjustments are necessary. One of those changes is to guide (not to order, remember that): to guide every employee to reach the results you want to achieve for the whole company, by evaluating all the processes of the supply chain. Ask yourself, and discuss it with your team: how can we improve this? Everything can improve, all the time.
Nevertheless, it will require time and energy from you. It’s important to become a keen observer. You will need more of an effort than you ever have in the past to achieve those goals you have not reached. Start by implementing Kaizen on you.
It’s not enough that the company executives become aware of all the situations going on thanks to the reports from their subordinates. It’s essential that they (you included) get in touch with the employees and visit them to evaluate the problematic situations themselves. It’s the only way they will know what’s actually happening and why.
There are three basic mechanisms to implement Kaizen: Standardization, Housekeeping and Waste Elimination.
- Standardization seeks the best use of every production process in order to ensure more quality to your products or services. The key is to make it safer and more practical for the employees.
- Housekeeping is a procedure for keeping your workplace organized and clean. Housekeeping includes a 5S system:
Seiri: Remove the useless items and everything that becomes an obstacle in the workplace; find the best way to dispose them and think about the necessary items in the necessary conditions to improve the function of every area.
Seiton: Arrange all the useful items so that they can be selected for use easily.
Seiso: Make your workplace clean and comfortable to work in. Seiketsu: Standardize the practices that work better in the area. Shitsuke: Instill discipline and train your employees so that they do without being told.
- Waste Elimination: Eliminate every activity that simply does not add value for your customers. Identify the most common: product defects, overproduction, wastes of time, excess processing, defective inventories and waste of transportation.