It is common that when people are first introduced to the concept of Kaizen, they get excited. The ability to implement small, incremental positive changes on a daily basis is universally appealing. Because respect for people is at the heart of the philosophy, employees quickly get on board as well.
However, what does it actually mean to adopt a Kaizen management style and develop a culture of daily improvement?
Here are a few practical applications of Kaizen management.
Seek to Execute on Lots of Small Ideas
Sometimes managers think they need to come up with the million-dollar game changer to make a difference. That’s not the case at all. Achieving perfect process operation requires many incremental improvements and recurring improvement cycles. Bring the spirit of Kaizen to your team by encouraging everyone to report even the smallest opportunity for improvement. This is best supported with improvement management software designed to capture each opportunity.
Be Hard on Processes, Not People
Often adverse events, defects, and other errors are written off as human error. Sometimes the humans are even written off! However, in most cases, people want to do a good job. Mistakes are the result of imperfect processes, training, or workspace conditions. When something goes wrong, don’t focus on the process operator, instead examine the process itself to determine how the problem was possible and how to error-proof the operation for the future.
Take Great Pains to Reduce Waste
Process waste is anything that does not add value to the customer. In other words, things that the customer wouldn’t want to pay for. Waste takes the shape of excess inventory, moving things or people around more than is necessary, over-designed features that people don’t use, unnecessary medical tests, and workplace disorganization that eats up employee’s time. Be on the lookout for waste and train your team to do the same. When waste is identified, begin an improvement cycle to reduce or eliminate it.
Ditch Your Suggestion Box
The purpose of a box is to store things, but Kaizen requires that you do something with employee ideas for improvement, not lock them away. Kaizen managers know that employees deserve a fast, collaborative response to all of the opportunities for improvement that they’ve identified. That doesn’t mean that you have to implement every improvement suggestion as it is offered, but the goal should be to examine each, find the causes of the issue, and work toward finding a “yes” that will fix the problem. Kaizen software is much better suited to this job than a suggestion box (even an electronic one) ever was.
Use Data Whenever Possible
You might not need to conduct a study to conclude that more traction strips would be a good idea on the loading dock, but some more complex problems require measurement to determine whether the improvements you implement really are having an impact. For example, if you want to improve your customer satisfaction scores, you first need a baseline to know where you stand today. Then, you would want to implement one change at a time and measure again to see if the improvement had the desired effect. If you try to do too much or don’t measure, you’ll never have a clear understanding of the impact of your change.
Don’t Let the Search for the Perfect Idea Kill the Perfectly Good One
The reason that we talk about “continuous improvement” is because perfection is not possible. If you reject every solution that doesn’t solve the problem 100%, you’ll never achieve Kaizen. Instead, welcome solutions that move the needle even a little bit in the right direction. Once you’ve made that move, look for the next and the next. Improvement cycles like DMAIC and PSDA are beneficial in the pursuit of incremental change.
Document Improvement Work
We are sometimes asked why it is essential to implement a platform for documenting improvement activities. The reason is that having more information about Kaizen projects is always better than having less. When someone wonders why something is done a certain way, it is helpful to look at the history of the activity and gain insight into how the current Standard was decided. This always you to take two steps forward, without taking two steps back.
I don’t see Kaizen as a thing you do. I see it as a paradigm of thinking that gets applied to many behaviors and improvement techniques. Managers can amplify their Kaizen mindset by modeling it and passing it along to employees.