Kaizen in the Workplace

Kaizen in the facility

Kaizen is both a methodology and a philosophy that can be found in Lean businesses, facilities, and organizations. The term Kaizen is from Japan and is a term meaning continuous improvement. It is integral to the Toyota Production System uses a variety of Lean tools and strategies. The idea of continuous improvement is one that includes smaller and incremental changes are constantly made to improve efficiency and processes in the business.

What is Kaizen?

While smaller improvements are looked for around the workplace, it is important to remember these small changes will add up to large and important improvements over time. An advantage Kaizen presents is that it involves workers at every level of the process for a humanized approach. By talking to those on the frontline, managers and supervisors can more easily identify the root cause of problems and implement solutions to be carried out immediately. Kaizen events can also be held to take a set amount of time, about a week or so, to focus solely on improving a specific process or a single part of the process.

Kaizen be thought of in the terms of events but should also be seen as a daily process. Activities that fall under the Kaizen umbrella are often done through the Plan > Do > Check > Act (PDCA) cycle. Whether it’s new product development, implementing Total Productive Maintenance, or taking a Gemba walk, the PDCA cycle is an extremely helpful tool. The steps in the cycle are as follows:Plan: Identify the issue and hypothesize potential causes and resolutions to the problem.
Do: Take the plan from the previous step and implement it.
Check: Analyze results to verify whether or not the plan implemented had a positive effect.
Act: If the results were not satisfactory, go back to the planning stage. If results were effective, the solution should be standardized.
Because it is a cycle, the fourth step is not the last step; whether the plan needs to be revised or the plan needs to be implemented, it should be started again with the “Plan” step. The cycle gives a sort of scientific method to the Kaizen philosophy with managers and employees testing out hypotheses to see what solutions work and developing new procedures based on outcomes.

Kaizen and Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing works to reduce and eliminate waste, improve quality, and please the customer and is virtually ineffective without the principles of Kaizen. Kaizen, and its idea of continuous improvement, helps achieve these Lean goals. Lean manufacturing often uses proactive tactics and strategies in order to reduce waste and Improve quality, and the Kaizen mindset is one that is proactive. An important goal of Lean manufacturing is to both respect people. A Kaizen strategy, involving workers of all levels into the problem-solving discussions and the implementation of solutions, can not only make the process easier, but it shows a level of respect to employees. When workers feel respected, they may feel more comfortable in making suggestions for process improvements.

Kaizen often works well when it is practiced as a daily activity, but regular Kaizen events can make a big impact. In daily Kaizen, workers are encouraged to regularly identify a problem or come up with an improvement idea and discuss the situation with coworkers or a supervisor. The idea, primarily one that is simple to execute, should then be executed using the PDCA cycle. Notes should be taken on the success and the plan can either be standardized or tweaked slightly for improvement. Kaizen events however, are completed through a set period of time and have a team of designated workers on a team to improve a process. Facilities can either use daily Kaizen, Kaizen events, or a combination of both to ensure continuous improvement in the workplace.

Additional Resources