Kaizen, mastering eastern business philosophy

Kaizen is a philosophy, with origins in Japan, which is oriented at taking incremental steps towards improving business processes, products, and quality. It can be defined as a continuous effort by all employees of the organization to ensure continuous improvement of all the processes and systems in the organization. It thus also helps in eliminating waste from the organization. It can also be applied to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, which cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain.

Kaizen process aims at continuous improvement of processes and quality not only in the manufacturing sector but in other departments as well. In today’s world, Kaizen has been applied in different fields like, healthcare, government, finance, software and several other industries.

How is Kaizen implemented?

Kaizen activities are usually implemented by using the Plan‐Do‐Check‐Act (PDCA) cycle. This ensures that there is always an on‐going cycle in action to monitor changes and continue to improve upon them.

Plan ‐ Define the problem and develop potential solutions. The required objectives and processes are set and information is gathered which is needed to get the expected output.

Do – Implement the plan and execute the set processes. Collect data, if any, to be used in the subsequent phases.

Check – Evaluate results to see if the solution satisfied the expected outcomes. Search for any deviations in implementations from the plan. Convert the data obtained into information.

Act – Based on the information, if things are going well as per the plan, then take measures to stabilize the changes or otherwise, repeat the PDCA cycle if there are still some unresolved issues.

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How does Kaizen work?

Kaizen works by reducing waste (muda) and eliminating work processes that are overly difficult (muri). It succeeds when employees at all the levels of the organization hierarchy look for scope for improvements and provide their suggestions and feedback based on their experience and observations. Generally, these suggestions are about small changes that can be made to existing business processes that can give positive results to the business over a long period of time. For this to work, it is important that it is made clear that any kinds of suggestions from anyone are welcome and there would be no negative impacts on participation. Instead, the employees will be rewarded for participation in the day to day activities.

Kaizen is founded upon five primary elements:

  1. Quality Circles: A quality circle is a group of people who work on the same or similar project, who meet on a regular basis to identify, analyse and solve work-related issues, if any.
  2. Improved Morale: It is an important step in achieving long term efficiency and productivity.
  3. Teamwork: Kaizen strives to help employees think that all are part of a team and need to put in collective efforts in order to succeed.
  4. Personal Discipline: A commitment to personal discipline by each employee ensures that the team will remain strong.
  5. Suggestions for Improvement: Gathering feedback from all the employees ensures that all problems are addressed before they become significantly huge.
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Kaizen Origins

Simply put, it is a Japanese management strategy that can be incorporated into all areas of your life, from work situations to personal life issues and the management thereof.

Roughly translated, it means; “Continuous slow improvement, or good change.”

Kaizen, is the philosophy of using small steps, or contributions, that work towards a big change, or ‘big picture’. It focuses on you and me, the individuals that form part of a small business, corporation and even a country. It encompasses the little things that can be changed by each one of us, on the path to becoming better, healthier, fitter Human Beings.

This is achieved by concentrating and improving on the little things that with time, effort and consistency, add up to a way of life, creating success almost effortlessly. To get to this point, we have to conquer our bad eating habits, cogitating, lack of activity and stress.

We have to take small, but steady steps towards achieving our goals, no matter what they might be! We can use the power and effectiveness of Kaizen, to accomplish all of this.

Kaizen is a long term commitment. It takes a long term view and the most important principles are that it is a daily, continuous and steady exercise. It is not important that huge and sudden improvements are made. Small improvements are great and it is important that you continually look at ways of making things better, no matter how small. You know the saying, “if it works, why change it?” Well, the Kaizen philosophy suggests that there are always ways to improve things, no matter how small that these changes may be.

We all know that it is better to prevent a problem than to fix one. By incorporating the Kaizen principles into your life, any obstacle to your success can be removed, even if it is one step at a time. Just remember, a thousand mile walk begins with the first step.

How to start?

You have to start with your mind. What motivates you? What is your reason for wanting to do whatever it is you want to do, be it weight loss, planning a trip, or improving your financial well-being? How will reaching those goals make you feel and how it might change your life?

We have to learn to be patient. This can only be measured by your commitment to your goals. You are committing to changes to improve your life and this will not change over- night. As they say, Rome was not built in a day!

When you have embraced the Kaizen philosophy, you will not be put off by setbacks, but will enhance your vision with objectives based on time lines and measuring your success on a daily basis, by sticking to your commitment.

Well now it’s time to take a closer look into this subject of Kaizen, through this short journey we are going to uncover exactly what kaizen is, the history behind it, the different types of Kaizen, how to create a Kaizen environment in your home, and much more. Let’s dive in.

The History Of Kaizen And Its Effect In The Real World

After World War II was over, the American occupation forces were asked to help Japan recover from the harsh consequences of the war that the country suffered from. In coordination with the Japanese business executives, this team developed new measures to improve business processes, quality and productivity.

At the same time, the Civil Communications Section (CCS) worked on developing a management training program which sought to teach statistical control methods. Homer Sarasohn and Charles Protzman developed and taught this course during 1949-1950. Sarasohn recommended W. Edwards Deming for further training.

The Economic and Scientific Section (ESS) was also assigned with the task of improving Japanese managerial skills and Edgar McVoy brought Lowell Mellen to Japan to help in establishing the Training Within Industry (TWI) programs in 1951.

Before the arrival of Mellen in 1951, the ESS group showed a training film about the TWI 3J principles- Job Instruction, Job Methods and Job Relations. This film was titled as ‘Improvement in four steps’. Thus, this was the original introduction of Kaizen to Japan.

In 1960, the Emperor of Japan awarded the 2nd order Medal of the Sacred Treasure to Dr. Deming for introducing, pioneering and implementing Kaizen in Japan.

Kaizen was first adopted by Toyota when it implemented quality circles in its production process. A quality circle is a group of people who work on the same or similar project, who meet on a regular basis to identify, analyse and solve work-related issues, if any.

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This led to the formation of the Toyota Production System, led by Taiichi Ohno, a former Executive Vice-President of Toyota Motor Company. This aimed to create a system of continuous improvement in quality, processes, productivity, management, and technology. This concept soon became popular across the country and contributed to the country’s success on the global market.

In 1986, Masaaki Imai’s introduced Kaizen to the rest of the world through his one of the bestselling books, named, Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success.

Impact of Kaizen in the real world

Kaizen is a philosophy which can be applied in all spheres of our lives, be it our working life, social life or life at home. Implementation of Kaizen assumes that there is always scope for improvement and one should not be completely satisfied with one’s previous achievements and thus strive for better.

When companies start to apply the concept of Kaizen, it aims towards improvements in the people, products, and the processes followed in the company. Emphasis is placed upon the process- on the ‘how’ part of achieving the desired results. Employees who are best at their jobs suggest improvements that would help in resolving problems quickly and efficiently. These changes are then communicated to everyone in the team so that the rest of the team can also start applying Kaizen.

A study of 236 employees from three different facilities has shown that the adoption of Kaizen has led to job enrichment and a rise in motivation. Job satisfaction also leads to satisfaction in your personal life, thus enriching lives in personal and work spheres.

Kaizen has many benefits in the real world, some of which are listed below:

  • The process of Kaizen helps in ensuring that any hindrances or threats to the project are identified in the initial stages of the project and solved immediately.
  • It aims to reduce the waste of an organization by effective management. Since this method encourages the idea that there are always better ways of doing things, employees are asked to conduct brainstorming sessions to come up with new and innovative ideas to reduce waste. This also ensures people work in a team and reach a positive outcome.
  • Companies who implement Kaizen are adept at process-oriented thinking which means that the method of achieving a certain result is as important as the result itself.

Kaizen has proven to be immensely successful in Japanese business and is responsible in bringing Japan to the forefront in the global market. Because of such success in Japan, this philosophy is now being heavily implemented in organizations from other parts of the world. Since it focuses on improvement, it has great positive impacts to the businesses and also in other spheres of life.

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Different Types Of Kaizen

Kaizen, If implemented in an organization, is the responsibility of all the employees and not just a few selected people.

There are different ways in which the Kaizen philosophy can be implemented in the workplace some of which are listed below.

Point Kaizen

It is one of the most commonly implemented types of Kaizen. It happens very quickly and usually without much planning. As soon as something is found broken or incorrect, quick and immediate measures are taken to correct the issues.

These measures are generally small, isolated and easy to implement, however they can have a huge impact.

In some cases, it is also possible that the positive effects of point kaizen in one area can reduce or eliminate benefits of point Kaizen in some other area. An example of Point Kaizen could be a shop inspection by a supervisor and he finds broken materials or other small issues, and then asks the owner of the shop to perform a quick Kaizen (5S) to rectify those issues.

System Kaizen

System Kaizen is accomplished in an organized manner and is devised to address system level problems in an organization.

It is an upper level strategic planning method which results in a number of planned Kaizen events over a long period of time. It is in contrast to point Kaizen which generally happens as a result of identification of a small issue which is resolved in a short period of time.

Line Kaizen

‘Line’ in this context refers to a structured spreading of Lean from point or discrete to the line. For example, Kaizen might be applied to a process (point), but also to the downstream process. Those two points constitute a Line Kaizen.

Another example might be in Lean implemented in procurement, but also being implemented in the planning department. Here in this case, planning is upstream from procurement and Kaizen is performed at those two points, which thus forms a line.

Plane Kaizen

It is the next upper level of Line Kaizen, in that several lines are connected together. In modern terminologies, this can also be described as value stream, where instead of traditional departments, the organization is structured into product lines or families and value streams. It can be visualized as changes or improvements made to one line being implemented to multiple other lines or processes.

Cube Kaizen

Cube Kaizen describes the situation where all the points of the planes are connected to each other and no point is disjointed from each other. This would resemble a situation where Lean has spread across the entire organization. Improvements are made up and down through the plane, or upstream or downstream, including the complete organization, suppliers and customers. This might require some changes in the standard business processes as well

10 Steps to Success With Kaizen

Mr. Masaaki Imai is the first person to introduce Kaizen to the world outside of Japan. He used his book “Kaizen, the Key to Japan’s Competitive Success” in order to help spread the word.

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Here we are going to look at 10 steps to success with the Kaizen art of continuous improvement.

Step One: Continue Learning

To start with, it is important that you realize that kaizen is unconventional. This means that it is not necessary to continue learning all our lives through.

Therefore, the basic idea is to realize that as you go along in life, you should always have to keep learning because new and innovational ideas are continuously popping up around every corner … the world continues to grow, and so should your mind.

Step Two: Continue thinking about how YOU can do Something

People have a tendency to focus on the negative – are you a victim of “negative thinking?” Instead of focusing on the things you are not able to do, what you should be doing right now is focusing your mind on those things you can do. This is called being an optimistic forward thinker. Continue down this path and before you know it, you’ll be accomplishing something new that you never thought was possible.

Always keep your mind forward and focus on the outcome and instead of finding ways that the outcome cannot be accomplished, find ways that the outcome CAN be accomplished.

Step Three: Eliminate Those Excuses

“I didn’t do this because …” stop right there – stop making excuses. Making excuses is the biggest excuse in the book not to do something. Start by seeking answers to current practices by asking questions. Focus on the outcome and then start to take action. If you continue to try, you won’t get stuck – you will continuously go in a forward motion.

Step Four: Never give up and never strive for perfection

“Giving up” shouldn’t even be in your vocabulary. Giving up is failure and that is not acceptable. On the same level, you must never strive for perfection, because by doing so, you are only setting yourself up for failure. Once you have accomplished something up to a certain point, don’t just walk away, instead, keep at it until you have completed it all the way. Yes, of course, there may be problems along the way, but as you go along, you can make adjustments.

Step Five: Correct the mistakes

As you’re doing something, mistakes are probably going to pop up at unexpected times. If this happens, don’t keep going.

Instead, find the solution to the mistake. Find out where you went wrong so that you can avoid that mistake the second time. It goes without saying “we learn from our own mistakes.” If the mistake involves other people, then do everything you can do in order to correct it as quickly as possible.

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Step Six: Don’t forget about your intelligence

Don’t just spend money for Kaizen, you should also be using your intelligence. The key to this is action. Start off by learning everything you need to know, then take action based on what you have learned.

Step Seven: Challenges are learning opportunities

Everyone has their own challenges they have to get through in life. When a challenge walks in your path, you should recognize it as a learning opportunity.

Honestly, if we didn’t have these challenges, we probably wouldn’t learn as much as we know today. Obstacles will pop up most everywhere when you least expect it. Just remember that everything you do will make you become a better person. Jump over those hurdles, learn to overcome them and be rewarded for those actions in the end. After one challenge goes away, another challenge may pop up in front of you, so be prepared to jump over that one as well.

Step Eight: Don’t be afraid to ask “Why”

So many people are afraid of the question “why.” Does that sound like you? Stop being afraid, there is nothing wrong with asking why.

By asking why, you will be able to discover what the base of the task is that you want to accomplish – it will help you understand it better. By understanding why something needs to be done, your chances of completing the task from start to finish will increase. Also, you should also consider the fact that by asking “why” and learning the reason behind it, you will be adding to your knowledge.

Step Nine: Group thinking is a good thing

Group thinking is something that you should think about. In our opinion, it is always better to seek the wisdom of ten people, than the knowledge of one person. You see, there is a tremendous amount of power in “group thinking.”

This could involve holding a meeting with a group of people and brainstorming together – this is how things get done. It is better to discuss a task with a group of people as this will increase the chances of the task getting done the right way – if you are getting the answers from one person that may not know how things are done, your chances of failing will increase.

So, with those thoughts in mind, it is important that you remember to ask how something is done from people who have already gone through the process and completed – don’t be afraid to ask a group of people for some help with a task that needs completing.

Step Ten: Kaizen is infinite

Here we are, at the final step – with this step, it is important that you realize that kaizen is infinite. This is a process of learning and growing gradually, steadily, and continually.

Often times, it will help to remember that life is a continuous journey, it isn’t a destination – you must continue to move through it. If you practice the philosophy of continuous improvement, then you will be making the most of this journey we call life.

Basically, if you want to continue to improve your life, you can’t sit there and the couch and expect “Mr. Improvement” to knock on your front door and automatically take place. Improvement in life, regardless of who you may be, is something that is going to take time and work – it takes a whole lot of action.

Kaizen culture in the workplace

Kaizen is a system which requires interaction and participation from all employees, from the front line crew to the upper management and even CEO of the company. Everyone is encouraged to brainstorm and come up with suggestions for improvement on a regular basis. It is a continuous activity, carried out throughout the year. Employees from all levels of a company work together proactively to achieve continuous, small and incremental improvements to the business processes. In this way, different levels of experiences and skills can be brought together to create very powerful techniques for making improvements in the company’s processes.

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Kaizen is a process, which if performed correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates hard work while encouraging smart work, and motivates people to conduct experiments based on their suggestions, learn to identify and reduce wastes in the business processes. When Kaizen is implemented as an action plan through a series of Kaizen events, it teaches employees to think in different ways about their work. They are pushed to think how their current work can be further improved in order to achieve greater success.

Implementing Kaizen in workplace

There are three stages in implementation of Kaizen in any organization.

  1. Encourage participation – To ensure active participation from all employees, it is necessary that first awareness about Kaizen is created. After the necessary awareness training sessions are provided, conduct and promote Kaizen events and provide rewards to employees on successful implementations of ideas which are the results of these events. In such events, direct involvement of management is also important.
  2. Training and Education – A proper training is required for executives to learn the essence of Kaizen. The management level should thoroughly understand Kaizen in an organizational vision context, which needs to be followed vigorously to achieve the desired business results. They must also be taught how to be impartial towards everyone and encourage their employees to actively participate.
  3. Quality level improvement – After training is completed, people should remain focussed on making changes towards improvement. They should take measures to start making small and incremental changes towards achieving long term goals, like improving efficiency, processes and quality.

In organizations where Kaizen is being implemented, transparency between different levels of the organization is very crucial. Effective communication should take place between all the levels of employees. While employees are brainstorming for ideas, it is important that management also gets involved in these sessions. The manager also should ensure that their suggestions and ideas are being acted upon immediately and not delayed by a week or month. Employees should be kept informed about other activities going on in the team and how their ideas are being worked upon. People should not feel that their ideas have all gone waste and are not being used. A positive mind set is what will help in keeping Kaizen alive in the organization.

Thus, constant application of Kaizen creates huge long term value by developing the culture that is really needed for true continuous improvement. You can be sure that kaizen will be of great benefit to you company, your employees and most important to your company’s productivity and growth.

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