Slow and steady improvement is a concept that perfectly explains in a simple way, characteristic of the Japanese culture, the manner in which kaizen operates. This type of strategy is by no means a checklist type of solution to follow along in order to improve productivity or correct shortcomings in the workplace. Kaizen is instead philosophy that has been time tested and proven by some of the most successful companies in the world, and that can be applied to every aspect of your company, no matter how small or large it is.
Understanding how kaizen operates is the first step to identify how it can work for you. Kaizen is all about small and constant continuous improvement; it means looking for ways to do the things you are doing, only better. As simple as it may sound, this is actually a very elegant and effective system to evaluate and improve upon productive. The Japanese are known for being very traditional in the way the go about most aspects of their everyday life and this included industrial labor as well. After World War II, Japan realized that doing business and conducting its industry in the way that it had been doing for decades was not going to cut when it came to competing with western manufacturers. This realization eventually lead to a reevaluation of their methods and a way to streamline manufacture and utilize technologies that while being readily available, they simply did not fit into their traditional way of doing things.
Kaizen has a principle that some see as the basis of implementing the system, this system is called the 5S or the 6S. The 5s refers to the first letter of 5 Japanese words that can sum up the 5 stages of kaizen and the additional S that some people use, refers to the word safety, as a concept that should always be taken into consideration for obvious reasons.
The first S is for the word seiri, which means sort, unclutter, classify. Sorting is the backbone and the first step into a successful kaizen implementation in a process. Sorting is something to do in order to remove clutter and get back to basics, it means to strip away all the unnecessary tools and procedures that only encumber performance and to take a look at what the bare minimum is, in order to accomplish a task. This can mean anything from literal and physical clutter from work areas to unnecessary steps taken when testing new products and removing so many layers of red tape and approval needed in order to move things forward.
The second S stands for seiton, which means to set in order or straighten. Starting with a clean slate, in this step you place things logically in order to have them within reach and organized in the most efficient manner so as to save time, energy and money when needing them. Once again and as it is with everything we are discussing, this can go from the micro to the macro. Anything from work areas and assembly lines all the way to organizing the supply chain and the way the company deals with providers.
The third S is for seiso, which means to scrub or clean. Just as it sounds, the physical cleanliness of the workplace and operational areas is of great importance in many different aspects. A clean workplace ensures safety rules are followed and minimizes possible hazards, but the benefits do not stop there; clutter free areas promote creativity, morale and the mental acuity of those who spends their days in there.
The fourth S is for seiketsu, which means standard or stable. Here is where you start to see in a clearer way, how kaizen works for you. Everything we are doing so far, is a way of improving and enhancing what we already had in place, but when you get to this stage you begin to make this changes the new standard, thus making this enhancements part of the way the company operates normally. This standardization of processes is especially helpful when training new employees and getting them up to speed to the way the company does things, as fast as possible.
The fifth and final S is shitsuke and it stands for sustain, maintain or practice. This is where we go from making a standard, part of company culture. Here we turn those procedures that we have polished into realities and part of the everyday company climate. By doing this we are not only accepting the changes we have just made and process with the whole methodology, we are also looking at them again with the same critical eye we started this cycle and putting them once again under scrutiny to ask ourselves once more: Are we being as effective and productive as we can possibly be?
For more articles on ways how to maximize your productivity and make the most out of techniques to enhance the effectiveness of your methods at the workplace, check out our articles at David Kiger’s Blog.