Kaizen Japanese charactersKaizen is the philosophy of continuous improvement. Translated from Japanese, the word “kaizen” translates to “changing something for the better.” With kaizen, manufacturers continuously improve standardized processes, equipment, and other daily production procedures by eliminating waste.

Successful kaizen efforts can result in benefits such as increased productivity, improved quality, better safety, lower costs, and improved customer satisfaction. Kaizen can also lead to benefits in a company’s culture, including improved communication among employees, improved morale and employee satisfaction, and an increased sense of ownership in the company among employees.

Embarking on a journey toward continuous improvement is a long-term commitment and a large, but important, undertaking. Here are 9 tips for success in your kaizen efforts:

1. Get organizational buy-in

Make sure your organization understands the importance of the Kaizen event to your business’s bottom line. Gaining buy-in is crucial to the success of your kaizen initiatives. If your organization’s leaders are committed to sustaining a culture of continuous improvement, they will set the tone for the rest of the company.

Further, it’s important that your employees have the support that they need from leadership in order to implement improvements. Otherwise, the team will be operating on a series of isolated efforts.

2. Emphasize a personal understanding of the philosophy of kaizen across all levels of the organization

Instilling an understanding of kaizen as a long-term practice, rather than a management initiative, is important in order to sustain continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is as much about mind-set as it is about actions.

Making sure your employees understand the history and philosophy of kaizen will help sustain a culture of continuous improvement that permeates through the company. Building a company culture with a steady focus on improvement is critical to maintaining momentum in your kaizen efforts.

3. Empower your employees

Employees who are closest to the problems on your shop floor are the best-equipped to solve them. They are your greatest assets in your kaizen efforts, so give them the support they need to implement improvements. Developing your team’s abilities through training and support should be as much a part of your continuous improvement program as making improvements to manufacturing processes.

Additionally, engaging team members to identify problems and suggest improvements in their work areas encourages a sense of ownership over their work, which can improve overall motivation, morale, and productivity.

4. Focus on small changes

Approach change in small, incremental steps; if you improve by just 1% every day for a year, you’ll be 37 times better than when you started. Test and implement small changes. This increases the speed to improvement and reduces the pressures and risks of implementing a major change.

If you improve by 1% every day, you'll have improved by 37 times by the end of the year.

To this end, focus your improvements on solving the root causes of issues. This allows employees to catch and contain small issues before they become larger and costlier to eliminate, and it prevents the same problems from reoccurring.

5. Document your process and performance before and after improvements have been implemented

In kaizen, it’s important to “speak with data and manage with facts.” In order to evaluate improvements objectively, existing procedures must be standardized and documented. Mapping the process’s initial state can help you identify wastes and areas for improvement and provide a benchmark for improvement.

Measuring performance against existing benchmarks allows you to demonstrate ROI from your kaizen efforts and keep the company aligned around improvement. It also allows you to identify areas where your efforts are working–or not–so you can make strategic decisions about future improvements.

In order to measure performance objectively, you should identify metrics that quantify improvements. These may include metrics revolving around quality, cost, resource utilization, customer satisfaction, space utilization, staff efficiency, and other KPIs.

6. Standardize work

In order for improvements to last, they must be standardized and repeatable. Standardizing work is crucial to kaizen because it creates a baseline for improvement. When you make improvements to a process, it’s essential to document the new standard work in order to sustain the improvements and create a new baseline. Standard work also reduces variability in processes and promotes discipline, which is essential for continuous improvement efforts to take root.

7. Create your own kaizen guidelines

While there are many resources available to guide you through your kaizen efforts, it’s important to personally understand your company’s kaizen journey. Reflecting on your kaizen efforts after improvements have been implemented is an important part of the continuous improvement cycle.

As you reflect on your efforts, develop your own kaizen guidelines. Start by creating guidelines based on your own experiences improving the workplace. Keep in mind that these guidelines should be for your colleagues, your successors, and yourself to understand the problems you have overcome. These guidelines will ultimately help you as you approach your next challenge.

8. Enforce improvements

It’s easy for employees to regress to their old ways. Enforcing the changes you’ve made to your processes is important for the improvements you’ve made to last, and it’s key to sustaining continuous improvement in the long term.

Documenting improvements, making sure standard work is up-to-date, and training employees on new procedures can help sustain the progress you’ve made in your continuous improvement efforts.

9. Rinse and repeat

Kaizen Continuous Improvement Cycle

The continuous improvement cycle: see the workplace, identify problems, and implement solutions

Observe the workplace again after implementing kaizen. You’ll probably still see some wastes. This is a good place to be: since you already know what the problem is and what needs to be done, this is your opportunity to try some new ideas.

Implementing Kaizen in your organization requires a long-term commitment to a series of efforts and improvements. Building a mindset of continuous improvement among your organization’s culture requires daily practice, and with time, you’ll see an increase in the efficiency, productivity, and quality of your operations.

For more resources to help you achieve continuous improvement in your factory, check out our Ultimate Guide to Kaizen.