The Kaizen continuous improvement process explained

Could a touch of Japanese philosophy be for you? Ditch the waste and focus on the essentials with this innovative approach…

27 November 2019

We’ve already talked about the lean methodology and how it can benefit your business by stripping away the unnecessary elements and focusing on the essentials. A branch of the lean approach, Kaizen is a method that favours small but continuous improvements to make large, positive changes to the company as a whole

Low risk and inexpensive, Kaizen introduces process improvements that don’t require a large capital investment. That means employees can be encouraged to try out new things. If an idea doesn’t end up working out, they can revert to previous methods without incurring any notable costs.

Here, we’ll delve into the Kaizen philosophy and show you how to use it to improve your approach to all things business.

 

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What is Kaizen?

Originating from the Japanese words for change (kai) and good (zen), it’s based on the philosophical belief that all things can be improved. Whereas the status quo would be to see a process as running fine, Kaizen would look at how such a process could be improved over time. The changes that Kaizen seeks to put in place are often so small, they may be unnoticeable at first glance, but these incremental improvements create vast changes over time.

Since it’s more of a philosophy than a codified tool, its approach can be used in many process improvement methods. In a business adhering to Kaizen, all employees are responsible for identifying gaps and inefficiencies, with everyone at all levels suggesting where improvement can take place.

 

 

Principles of Kaizen

Central to the philosophy of Kaizen is a selection of principles that are key to optimising the mindset and attitude of everyone in a business, which are as follows:

  • Let go of assumptions
  • Be proactive about problem-solving
  • Don’t accept the status quo
  • Let go of perfectionism and make an iterative, adaptive change
  • Look for solutions when you find mistakes
  • Create an environment in which everyone feels empowered to contribute
  • Don’t accept the obvious issue; ask “why” and get to the root cause
  • Collect information and opinions from multiple people
  • Use creativity to find low-cost, small improvements
  • Never stop improving

 

 

What are the benefits of Kaizen? 

Fosters teamwork and ownership

By affording employees the freedom to suggest ideas, teams take responsibility for their work as a group. Teamwork lies at the heart of the Kaizen idea, creating a work atmosphere that’s rewarding for everyone. When problems are solved together, the sense of team spirit increases, lessening prejudices about each other as tasks are completed with a fresh perspective.

Improved employee engagement

As a result, employees become actively involved and engaged within the company. A more engaged workforce means more efficient processes, lower turnover and an environment where innovation abounds. When employees are engaged, it has a positive impact on the company’s performance, improving both employee and customer satisfaction.

As engagement increases, productivity receives a boost since employees strive to see their suggestions come into effect and play a part in the company.

Fewer wasted resources

By focusing on the things that matter, unessential parts of your business’ processes fall by the wayside. There is constant change as everyone is encouraged to identify problems, analyse them, find the cause and suggest alternatives. The streamlining of processes means less excess.

Increased efficiency

Trimming this excess provides a leaner, tighter ship. Toyota, a famous advocate of Kaizen, uses the philosophy to get its employees building cars with strict precision, starting with muscle memory training. As a result, cars roll off the production with speed and accuracy.

Instant troubleshooting

In a Kaizen environment, problems are met head-on, with decisions and alternatives suggested immediately. This reduces lead time and gets production and processes back on track. What start as temporary solutions could well become permanent changes further down the line.

Improved safety

As a physical and mental decluttering, Kaizen keeps the environment safe too. By implementing ideas that serve to clean up the areas where employees work, there’s greater control over equipment and processes. This can help to cut down on any accident-related injuries that can negatively affect production, i.e. employees taking time off from work to handle medical emergencies.


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What does the Kaizen cycle look like? 

Another of Kaizen’s beliefs is its focus on the continuous. So, when issues are identified and solutions are created, they’re rolled out and then cycled through to see whether they adequately address the problem.

The cycle for continuous improvement goes as follows:

 

Get employees involved: For Kaizen to work, it requires buy-in from your employees, so show them how it can beneficial to the workplace culture. Look for their involvement by asking them to identify issues. At this stage, this can either be as groups or as individuals.

 

 

  • Identify problems: After receiving feedback from your employees, create a list of problems and start to identify any opportunities that could deal with the issues. 
  • Create a solution: Encourage employees to offer creative solutions to the issues. It’s important to stress that nothing is off the table at this point, so make sure that every idea is welcomed. Pick the solution(s) you think best solves the problem.
  • Test the solution: Implement the solution that was chosen and ensure everyone does their bit to roll things out. 
  • Analyse the results: Check how the solution is progressing at various intervals, with plans for who will be the point of contact and how to keep those on the ground-level engaged. Identify how successful the change has been.
  • Standardise: If the results were positive, adopt the solution throughout the business.
  • Repeat: Take a look at what else was on your list and repeat the above six steps.

 

 

How can I put Kaizen into practice?

Whether you implement it company-wide, within teams or at a personal level, certain instances may need clear direction. If you’re putting it in place so it benefits a team or the company, then it will require leadership and an understanding that company culture may shift as a result.

One way is to build process and deployment flowcharts to visualise your current processes. This way, you can detect the more wasteful elements that don’t add any meaningful value to how processes are carried out. Use it as a chance to reflect on how things are going and what you need to do to make improvements going forward. It might be a difficult or touchy subject at the outset, but being critical of your processes is a large part of making the right changes.

As a small business, it’s a good idea to think small. Give everyone in your team a sense of empowerment by allowing their voice to be heard. They may hit upon something big which plays a part in how things move forward.

Since Kaizen is inherently inclusive, your team may not be used to being afforded such opportunities. Like we said earlier, it’s not about perfection. There’ll be a degree of trial and error when implementing proposed improvements. That means if something doesn’t work out, you should stress that blame isn’t to be pointed at anyone. Innovation doesn’t always work out the first time, it’s about iterations and improvements.

Gazprom Energy is a leading and award-winning business energy supplier, helping thousands of small businesses manage their gas and electricity contracts. To find out more about what we can offer your business, visit the homepage or call us today on 0161 837 3395. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.


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