Kaizen means improvement on a continuous basis. Originated in Japan, Kai means change and zen means for good. As per the concept and philosophy of Kaizen, everything can be improved, and applying Kaizen in operations helps to improve and increase the efficiency of different processes in an organization. Kaizen means improvement on a continuous basis. If you are looking to minimize waste, improve customer satisfaction, augment the business procedures and maximize operational efficiency, then it is time to implement lean Kaizen in your organization. Kaizen is also highly effective in implementing and speed up the change process in the organization.

Kaizen is not any specific tool but a philosophy which is rooted in many different process improvement methods like total quality management (TQM), just-in-time (JIT) or as simple as employee suggestion boxes. The role to implement Kaizen is not the responsibility of top management or any specialized time, but the role is vested with each and every employee of the organization, who should look for gaps and inefficiencies in the existing processes and procedures, suggest changes for improvement and finally, helps in implementing those changes for continuous and sustained improvement.

Steps for Implementing Kaizen

The implementation of kaizen generally differs from organization to organization and as such there is no standardized process for implementing kaizen. However, we have identified ten major steps that are needed in general to implement and benefit from Kaizen. These steps are stated as under:

  • Define the problem/ issue
  • Document the current situation
  • Visualize the optimum situation
  • Measurement targets to be defined
  • Brainstorm about the possible solutions to the issue
  • Develop the Kaizen plan
  • Implement the Kaizen plan
  • Measure and compare the actual results with the targets to learn about variances, if any
  • Prepare documents to summarize
  • Create action plans and sustaining plans

Benefits of Kaizen

When the organization works towards continuous improvement, it can reap the benefits of improved efficiency and effectiveness in all domains of the organization. Some of the benefits witnessed by the organizations which practices Kaizen are:

  • Reduction in waste: The efficiency of the employees increases with the implementation of Kaizen, that helps in effective management of inventory, machines, tools and other resources in the organization, that finally leads to reduction in Muda (waste).
  • Enhances satisfaction: Since the way things are done with Kaizen improves, it helps to enhance satisfaction throughout the organization. Not just employees, but even the customers and other stakeholders of the organization experiences high level of satisfaction.
  • Increases employees commitment: Since each and every employee in the organization is involved, the sense of belongingness and commitment from employees increases. The employees are able to view their contribution to the growth of the company, which again increases their commitment and enhances the operational efficiency throughout the organization.
  • Retention rate increases: This applies to both the employees as well as the customers. With high satisfaction and commitment levels, the motive for switching the company for employees reduces and the employee turnover rate falls. Further, the increased efficiency leads to qualitative products and services to the customers, which helps to acquire and retain the customers on a long term.
  • Competitive edge: By fostering high satisfaction to the customers by way of providing high quality products and services with reduced customer lead times, the organization is able to maintain their market share and enjoy a strong competitive edge in the industry.

There are many other benefits of Kaizen, that are the working teams in the organization work more efficiently, the problem solving skills of the employees enhances and finally, the organization is able to reap the benefits of synergy by maintaining a work- culture that is improvement- oriented and innovative.

Kaizen Events

It should be noted that the word kaizen recognizes the philosophy of kaizen, and it differs when we talk about Kaizen events. Kaizen event denotes the action which aims at improving the output of any existing process. The aim of the kaizen events is to achieve a low six sigma score. Generally a Kaizen leader is appointed who identifies the opportunity for improvement and/ or plan and lead these changes. The kaizen event leader integrates and gathers the operators and other employees attached to the particular process at one place. Then they map the existing process, and then suggest and implement the improvement process.

Some of the differences identified between kaizen philosophy and event are:

  • Kaizen is a continuous improvement philosophy while kaizen events are undertaken for short term tasks to improve any particular process
  • The responsibility for kaizen is vested with each and every employee of the organization but kaizen events are facilitated by an appointed facilitator.

Running a Kaizen event

A kaizen event can be conducted for a short term, and can last from one day to a few weeks, depending on the event and identified issue. There should be a pre-planning and a tentative schedule of the event should be framed before actually getting into implementing Kaizen event. Some of the steps that the organization should consider while planning the kaizen event are:

  • Train or hire the kaizen facilitator
  • Gain understanding and commitment from management
  • Establish the boundaries of the event
  • Define the purpose of the event
  • Communicate about the event to everyone in organization
  • Select the team for implementation
  • Identify the measures of improvement in performance
  • Implement the improvement measures

Kaizen Videos

Reading List

  • Kaizen and the Art of Creative Thinking: Dr. Shingo reveals how he taught Toyota and other Japanese companies the art of identifying and solving problems. Many companies in the West are trying to emulate Lean but few can do it. Why not? Possibly, because we in the West do not recognize, develop and support the creative potential of every worker in solving problems. Toyota makes all employees problem solvers. Dr. Shingo gives you the tools to do it.
  • Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Success: For the professional manager or student of management, a comprehensive handbook of 16 Kaizen management practices that can be put to work. KAIZEN uses more than 100 examples in action and contains 15 corporate case studies.
  • Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy. How to implement cost-effective, incremental improvements in your most critical business processes. Global case studies from a wide range of industries demonstrate how gemba kaizen has been successfully used.

Six Sigma Black Belt Certification Kaizen Question:

Question: Which of the following is defined as continuous, incremental improvement? Taken from ASQ sample Black Belt exam.)

(A) Kanban
(B) Kaizen
(D) Kaikaku

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