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“What is Kaizen?” & 5 Other Continuous Improvement Questions Answered

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Dec 1, 2015 9:42:01 AM

questionmarks.jpgWhen someone first gets involved in continuous improvement, I bet it feels a bit like I’d feel if I went to a convention for astrophysicists. I’d smile and wave a lot, but not have much of a clue about what’s going on.

It’s easy for those of us who’ve been involved in the improvement culture for a long time to forget that the concepts and lingo can be confusing to the less experienced, and that asking basic questions isn’t always easy. To help, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most important continuous improvement questions your employee may need answered. We've tried to explain things simply, and suggest that you do the same when introducing people to continuous improvement. 

What is Kaizen?

Like many terms used in continuous improvement, Kaizen is a Japanese word. Simply translated, it means, “positive change.” In practice, Kaizen means making small, incremental improvements on a frequent basis. It is a long-term approach to improving efficiency and removing waste that involves every person in an organization.

What are Lean, Six Sigma, TPS and TQM?

Lean (or Lean Manufacturing), Six Sigma, TPS (Toyota Production System) and TQM (Total Quality Management) are all business methodologies designed to support continuous improvement. They are each a variation on the approach that Japanese automakers successfully used to improve the quality of their cars after WWII and dominate the automotive market. First adapted to use in manufacturing in the US, they have further evolved and are now used in a wide variety of industries from healthcare to software.

Do I have to use a business methodology for continuous improvement?

No. Each one supports Kaizen with its own set of tools and its own language, but it is the Kaizen mindset that is most crucial to improvement success?

What is PDSA?

PDSA, also known as the Deming Cycle, stands for Plan, Do, Study, Adjust. This four step improvement cycle is based on the scientific method, which approaches problems through hypothesis (plan), experimentation (do), and evaluation (study). Based on our study and assessment of our experiment, we can continue moving forward or go back and try something different based on what we've learned (adjust). The eventual output of a successful PDSA cycle is a new standard that institutionalizes the improvement. The cycle can begin again and further improvement can be achieved.

What is a Kaizen Event?

When faced with a particularly vexing challenge, an organization can hold what’s called a Kaizen event or Kaizen blitz. During a Kaizen event, a small cross-functional team usually focuses 100% of their energy over a 2- to 5-day period to identify and execute improvements to a targeted issue or process.

What is Kaizen software?

Kaizen software is technology designed to help organizations identify, act on, and measure the impact of improvement work. The best solutions provide for automated workflow with alerts and notifications to make sure that forward progress on improvement is made. Kaizen software also serves as the organization’s institutional memory, keeping a record of every past improvement activity.

How do you boil down complex improvement ideas for your staff? Leave a comment and share it with our other readers. 

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