The practice of Kaizen is not about a particular way of performing business operations or even a specific approach to process improvement. Instead, it is a way of thinking about business operations that can transform how you look at problems and open up new doors to innovation. Kaizen seeks to move operations nearer and nearer to perfection through incremental improvement. Embracing the approach is not only beneficial for organizations, but it can also accelerate the development and help the careers of individual employees as well.
Here are seven ways of thinking that can help you become a champion for positive change.
1. Forget All of the Reasons, “It Can’t be Done.”
People who practice Kaizen walk through the world with a primarily positive view. It isn’t necessary to spend time thinking about why a problem doesn’t have a solution or accept that a challenge is too great because it hasn’t been fixed before. Focus on solutions.
2. Question Current Processes
It is very common for people to ignore apparent opportunities for improvement or live with workarounds because when a task becomes routine, it is difficult to recognize that there might be a better way. Do get over this, step back and think about the reasons behind each task. Don’t exempt anything from evaluation.
3. Don’t Let Perfect be the Enemy of Good
It would be great if you could examine a process, recognize all of the ways it could be improved, and implement a perfect operation all in one swoop, but that’s not how it works. If you are waiting for ideal conditions and a guaranteed plan to succeed, you’ll never see it. Instead, make small changes even if they only partially improve results. Do this over and over, and soon you’ll find your processes getting better and better.
4. Leverage the 5 Whys
The best improvements are those that target the actual root causes of quality and performance problems. A great way to make sure that you target the real foundation of the problem is a technique called the 5 Whys. Every time you ask why, you get closer to the root cause. Five isn’t a hard rule, but it gets you there most of the time.
5. Seek Broad Input
Every person who is involved in a process has a different point of view. Process operators have some information, but so do people who supply inputs to the process, customers of the process, and subject matter experts. It’s necessary to listen to all of the stakeholders to get a holistic view of the situation. Ideally, all of these participants will have a role in defining the problem, considering solutions, and ultimately implementing the change.
6. Develop a Preference for Simple Solutions
The more moving parts something has, the more things there are to break. When people think about improvement, they often focus on adding more inspection, approvals, or automation. But, the truth is there is much to be gained by subtraction. What are we doing that does not add value for the customer? In many cases, less is more.
As Bruce Hamilton, Director Emeritus for the Shingo Institute, said, “Continuous improvement is not about the things you do well – that’s work. Continuous improvement is about removing the things that get in the way of your work.”
7. Adjust to Changing Conditions
One of the reasons that Kaizen is an endless practice is that even if you get your operations just a hair away from perfection, your work is not done. Conditions around your processes are always changing. Customer demands change over time, suppliers change their business terms, competitors introduce new products: the list goes on and on. While the Standard you implemented last year may have been perfect for the time, it’s necessary always to ask, “Is this the best practice for today?”
If you live these habits and encourage your employees to do the same, you’ll soon notice that things look a little brighter. Challenges exist, but you have the skills and attitude to turn them into opportunities for good change.