If you are exploring ways to make your organization more efficient and better at sustaining continuous improvement, you may have come across references to the Kaizen Methodology. Masaaki Imai introduced the Kaizen Methodology to the world in 1986 in his book Kaizen, The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success. We recommend giving it a read along with several other titles that we’ll share at the end of this post. Our goal today is to provide you with the basics of the Kaizen Methodology and hopefully leave you wanting to learn more.
What is Kaizen?
Masaaki Imai described Kaizen this way, “Kaizen is everyday improvement, everybody improvement, everywhere improvement.” The word Kaizen comes from the Japanese words for “Good” (zen) and “Change” (kai). In the workplace, Kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions and involve every employee from the executive team to front line workers. Several Japanese manufacturing businesses first embraced the Kaizen method after World War II. It has since been adopted by organizations in every sector across the world.
The Principles of the Kaizen Methodology
Kaizen is not a prescription for improvement. Instead, it is a philosophy that informs every decision and permeates the culture. Kaizen is the basis of many improvement methodologies including Six Sigma, Lean and the Toyota Production System. The Kaizen Methodology rests on several core beliefs:
- Every process can be improved
- Continuous improvement essential to competitiveness
- Defects and errors are almost always the fault of flawed processes, not people
- Every person in the organization must be involved in improvement
- Incremental changes can have a significant impact
The Benefits of a Culture of Kaizen
People often associate Kaizen with Lean manufacturing and its goal of waste reduction. That is an important benefit of the Kaizen methodology, but it is far from the only one. Others include:
- Employees are more satisfied because they have a direct impact on how work gets done
- Employees are more committed because they have more ownership over the processes they oversee
- Employee retention improves because of the factors mentioned above
- The organization is more competitive due to improved efficiency which leads to lower costs and higher quality, more innovative products
- Improved consumer satisfaction that results from higher quality products with fewer faults
- Better problem solving happens when people look at processes from a solutions point of view
- More cross-functional collaboration occurs as people work together to solve problems
How to Spread the Kaizen Mindset
Engaged leadership is arguably the factor most relevant to the organization’s ability to spread the Kaizen method. Organizations with leaders who commit to providing the education and resources necessary to achieve continuous improvement get the most out of the approach and see sustained results. Here are some things leaders can do to help spread Kaizen:
- Lead by example; visibly participate in improvement work with great enthusiasm
- Remind people about the importance of the Kaizen methodology as often as possible
- Frequently ask for ideas for improvement and react quickly to those ideas
- Empower employees to act on opportunities for improvement without fear
- Recognize ideas that produce positive impact beyond the balance sheet
- Focus on the importance of small, incremental improvement. Be clear that every improvement doesn’t need to be a project or an event.
- Define and celebrate the impact of Kaizen
How Technology Supports the Kaizen Method
You don’t need technology to implement the Kaizen methodology, but it sure helps. Investing in a software platform to collect ideas for improvement, manage their implementation, report results, and broadcast success puts an organization in the best position to get value out of Kaizen. Modern solutions many improvement aids including digital huddle boards, alerts and notifications, configurable dashboards for each role, control charts, X-matrices, and more. Kaizen and improvement software are the perfect marriage of philosophy and structure.
As promised, here are a few recommended titles in addition to Kaizen, The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success.
- Toyota Kata (2009) by Mike Rother – This book covers how Toyota manages continuous improvement along with human respect through making Kaizen an integral part of the culture.
- Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy, Second Edition (2012) by Masaaki Imai - A second outstanding work by Imai reveals how to implement cost-effective, incremental improvements in your most essential business processes.
- Creating a Kaizen Culture: Align the Organization, Achieve Breakthrough Results, and Sustain the Gains (2013) by Jon Miller, Mike Wroblewski and Jaime Villafuerte - This work centers on employees, the most critical component of an effective organization. The authors share insight on how to increase engagement by creating a culture that embraces the Kaizen method, including examples from Toyota, Zappos, and others.
- Healthcare Kaizen: Engaging Frontline Staff in Sustainable Continuous Improvement (2012) by Mark Graban and Joseph E. Swartz - This is a great option for those working in healthcare environments.
We hope this post has you thinking more about how you can apply the Kaizen methodology in your organization to boost productivity, reduce waste, and delight customers and employees. We’ve seen it work in countless organizations and are sure it could have an impact on yours.