Kaizen is a business philosophy that focuses on making constant improvements to whatever it is that you are working on. It is most commonly used in manufacturing facilities to help to reduce waste, improve efficiency, and improve the overall quality of a product that is being made.
Kaizen strategies can also be used for personal efficiency. Understanding what kaizen is and how to implement it into any situation in your life, whether personally or for a company, can help to make excellent improvements.
The term kaizen is Japanese and has a translation of ‘change for the better.’ It is often simply translated as continuous improvement, however, since that is the general meaning that it has been given by most people who use this system today.
One of the most important ways to push continuous improvement forward is through kaizen events.
What is a Kaizen Event?
A kaizen event is when you plan to attempt to make a specific improvement over a set period of time. In the workplace, these events will be focused on one area so that the team can be focused just on that to get the results they need.
There is no one set process that must be followed in order for an improvement effort to be considered a kaizen event. The important thing is that it is planned out correctly so that the changes that you make can be implemented efficiently and you get the results that you are looking for.
It is important to note that a kaizen event does not need to address every known inefficiency or problem with a specific process. In fact, it is best to focus in on just one type of change that needs to be made. If you are aware of multiple different improvement opportunities, then you can plan out multiple different kaizen events in order to address them all.
Breaking the changes down into separate kaizen events will not only help you to be more organized, but it will also make it easier for you to track what improvements gave you the results you were looking for.
5 Elements to Kaizen
When using kaizen there are five main elements to keep in mind. Each of these elements should be considered when planning out a kaizen event. By incorporating these elements in to your overall strategy, you will not only be able to get better results, but you will actually be able to come up with better improvement opportunities.
The 5 elements in the kaizen process should be taught to everyone in a facility so that they can embrace them personally. In many ways, these elements are there to help people stop looking at just the way things are, but evolve to look at the way things should be.
The five elements to kaizen are:
Everyone on the whole team should have the same goal in mind. For kaizen, this goal is making improvements to the way things are currently done. Many improvements, including those that take place during kaizen events, won’t directly benefit every individual who is involved. With an attitude of teamwork, however, everyone will be able to recognize the great benefits for the group as a whole and be willing to contribute.
There is always a temptation to cut corners or do things that will be personally easier for an individual. This is especially true in the workplace where making sure to do things the proper way doesn’t always translate into a direct improvement on your life.
Having personal discipline and a dedication to doing the right thing at all times, however, can really make a huge difference. Getting everyone on board to commit to doing quality work and having good time management efforts can eliminate many problems and produce better results.
When the company sees these improvements in action, however, they should also be committed to provide the employees who have this personal discipline with additional benefits. This could be more money, a flexible schedule, improved working conditions, or any number of things.
One of the ways that kaizen is going to help improve the company is by making things better for the workers. A properly implemented kaizen program will not just eliminate problems associated with production, but also problems impacting employees.
If you have been using kaizen in your facility for some time and there has not been a marked improvement to the overall morale, then you are not doing everything properly. Always look for opportunities to improve the day to day lives of employees, and when you find them, create a kaizen event to bring them into reality.
It has been shown in many different ways that employees with better morale are able to produce better results, so this really is a mutually beneficial effort for everyone involved.
Quality circles are small groups of people who meet on a regular basis to discuss how things are going in the workplace. This is often where the initial planning of a kaizen event or other improvement opportunity will get their start.
By having these smaller groups of people meeting, everyone will have the opportunity to bring up improvements that they think should be made. These improvements can then be discussed and brought up to the kaizen manager or other leader in the organization to see if they can be implemented.
Creating effective quality circles can sometimes be a challenge, but it is well worth the effort.
Suggestions for Improvement
Suggestions for improvement are perhaps the most important element of the kaizen method. This goes well beyond simply allowing every employee to make a recommendation on what they think could be improved.
All employees should actually be trained on how they can identify areas of waste or improvement opportunities while doing their normal day to day tasks. When they identify areas where improvements could be made, they should be encouraged to formally submit their ideas so that they can be reviewed and added to future kaizen events, if appropriate.
In almost all cases, companies will be able to benefit more from the improvement ideas made by employees than anything that upper management or even outside consultants could come up with on their own.
Kaizen Event Tools
Whenever beginning any new effort it is important to do everything you can to make sure it is a success. This means making sure you have the right tools in place. Kaizen event tools are generally ideas or strategies that you can incorporate into each event as needed. They can also include physical resources that can help you accomplish a specific task.
Anything that you come up with that will make a kaizen event more successful can be looked at as a tool. Some of the most commonly used kaizen tools are the following.
Gemba is another Japanese concept. It means ‘the real place.’ In the context of kaizen, Gemba is when managers or other people actually spend time out on the floor where work is done. This is also commonly called a Gemba walk, or even just ‘managing by walking around.’
No matter what you call it, the concept of Gemba can be very helpful in identifying improvement opportunities. You will often see inefficiencies while spending time the in the area where the work is being done. More importantly, however, is that you will be spending more time with the actual front-line workers who are getting things done.
This will help to invite conversation and suggestions on problems that they deal with every day. These problems can then be addressed during a future kaizen event.
The PDCA cycle, which stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act, is a very popular system. It can be used when planning out a kaizen event or when looking for ways to make improvements. Encouraging everyone to take the time to plan out potential changes, do the changes, check to see if they worked as intended, and then act based on those results can be very beneficial.
For very small improvements, an individual employee can go through this process on their own to see if an improvement idea they had would be successful. If they find that changing a process is going to be advantageous for everyone in the facility, they can then work with the leadership team to get everyone to do it. This could be done during a kaizen event.
For larger changes, using the PDCA cycle will be a great tool when planning out how to conduct a kaizen event.
Value Stream Mapping
Value stream mapping is a process where a company identifies exactly where value is added to a particular product during the production process. This is often done in a diagram format so that it is easy to understand by everyone involved.
When working on value stream mapping, it is important to understand that for a manufacturer, true value is anything that a customer is willing to pay for. If you identify anything that is happening during production that is not adding value, then it should be eliminated, streamlined, or adjusted so that it actually creates value.
Where you find things that are not creating value within the map, you can use kaizen events to change them. When creating a value stream map, make sure to include people from all areas of the production process since there will often be steps that you didn’t even realize were done during the creation of a product.
Jishuken is also from the Japanese language, and this word translates into self-study, or autonomous study groups. When it comes to kaizen, this concept suggests that managers need to get more involved with the processes that they are responsible for.
A manager should, for example, understand each step of the process well enough that they could step in and perform each tasks if they needed to. Even if they do not know how to do each job proficiently, they should be able to follow the processes that have been established in order to get it done.
Taking the time to perform these tasks, or at least understand how they are performed, will help managers to be able to better look for ways that they can be improved. When managers go through the process of each task themselves, they will also learn what it is like for new employees or people who are starting in a new roll, which can be helpful.
The five ways is a kaizen tool that encourages the person or group engaging in the process to ask why something is done five times (or however many is necessary) to get to the root cause of the subject.
For example, if you find that a defect is present on 10 percent of products coming off the line, you might ask why this is happening. The answer to that first why might be a worn part on a machine. This is not, however, the root cause. Asking why the part was worn out might lead you to find that it had reached the end of anticipated life.
Asking why that happened could help you to realize that you do not have a preemptive process in place to replace that part when it reaches its expected end of life. Now, rather than just replacing the part and waiting for the defects to come back in the future, you can set up a kaizen event to update the process for making sure that this part is always in good working order.
Steps to a Kaizen Event
When you decide what needs to be improved in your facility, it is time to start setting up your kaizen event. While everyone is going to be a little different, the steps to a kaizen event should generally be followed in order to get predictable results.
Each kaizen event should have the following steps in place:
- Select Area for Improvement – Identify exactly what is going to be improved. To the extent possible, this should be a very precise item that needs to be changed to get better results.
- Choose the Team – Selecting the team of people who will work on the kaizen event is important to its success. Kaizen teams should include people from multiple levels of the company as well as people from all impacted teams so that they can make the right decisions.
- Develop and Implement the Changes – Once the team has been brought together, they will come up with how they want to fix the problem. Their solution will then be implemented and rolled out to everyone who will be using it.
- Follow Up – In the days or weeks following the kaizen event, data should be gathered to make sure that the desired outcomes are being realized.
What is a Kaizen Event in Lean Six Sigma?
Many companies that use kaizen events also use the Lean Six Sigma methodologies. Lean Six Sigma is a system where an organization attempts to reduce waste and defects within the company to specific levels. This requires that employees at every level work together to find out what causes defects or other issues and addresses them.
Kaizen events bring people from throughout the production process together so that they can work on making improvements. Since most products are made using some type of production line, having people from every stage work together is extremely important. The way something is done during the first stage of production will have a direct impact to potential defects or other issues down the production line.
By having members of the team from throughout the process come together, practical solutions can be discovered that will help to benefit everyone. Of course, the most important goal for any kaizen event is going to be to eliminate waste, reduce defects, and make sure that there is continuous improvements. This is also the goal of the overall lean manufacturing process.
While kaizen events alone, or overall lean manufacturing strategies, won’t revolutionize things overnight, they will make it possible to keep getting better and better over time. This, of course, will be key to remaining competitive in any industry.