Kaizen is guided by a few key principles:
Good processes create good results.
At its core, kaizen is concerned with continuous improvement by reducing waste in processes, guided by the key belief that good processes lead to good results. In manufacturing, this means that reducing waste in a process adds value to the customer. In lean manufacturing, the 8 wastes (also known as muda, or any activity that consumes resources without creating value for the customer) are defined as:
- Defects: When a product is not fit for use it must be scrapped or reworked, adding cost to the production process without adding value.
- Waiting time: Unevenness in the work environment can lead to people waiting on material or equipment, or machines idling, and can result in overproduction or excess inventory.
- Extra motion: Unnecessary movement can place strain on personnel and not add additional value to the customer.
- Excess inventory: Excess inventory can cause inefficiencies and cause delays in the detection of problems. Problems can accumulate, and with more inventory, problems take longer to solve.
- Overproduction: Producing too much before it is required obstructs a smooth flow of work, raises the costs of production and storage, hides defects inside work-in-progress, and increases lead time.
- Extra processing: Excess activity as a result of poor tool or product design.
- Unnecessary transportation: Moving items that are not necessary for the process.
- Unutilized talents: Under-utilizing skills or assigning tasks to employees with insufficient training.
Improvements are based on small changes
Rather than wait for a major change to be implemented to begin improving, change should be approached in small, incremental steps. This increases the speed to improvement and reduces the pressures of implementing a major change. In addition, small changes are often less costly and therefore less risky.
To this end, a key to making incremental improvements is identifying and 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.
Improvements must be measurable, standardized, and repeatable
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. Further, improvements should be standardized, and all employees should be trained on new procedures associated with these improvements.
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.
Empowering the Employees
Kaizen places emphasis on the value of employees at every level of an organization. Employees who are closest to the problem are the best-equipped to solve them. Further, 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.
It’s also essential for management to be involved in your Kaizen efforts. Make sure your organization understands the importance of Kaizen to your business’s bottom line. Gaining buy-in is crucial to the success of your Kaizen initiatives, and 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.