Kaizen came from the Japanese words Kai, which means “change” and Zen – “good”, which means “good change” in the Polish language. Kaizen consists of involving all employees of the unit, regardless of the level, in a constant search for ideas for improvement in all areas of the organization.
Kaizen is not only a management concept but also part of Japanese culture, which is present in many aspects of life.
Kaizen in the company
Kaizen in the company is supposed to involve the entire staff in the improvement process. All employees should continuously analyze processes, rules of conduct, working methods, and standards. This makes it possible to find and eliminate defects and shortcomings in the company’s operations.
The responsibility of the management is to pursue a policy of continuous improvement of the organization through small steps. However, they are not the only ones involved in improvement. Kaizen training is conducted at every level of the organization. In this way, even (or perhaps above all) ordinary employees participate in continuous improvement (e.g. by proposals to improve their workplace, which they know best). Improvement by using the “small steps” method means that the results are not visible immediately but after some time.
How to implement Kaizen?
Kaizen is closely linked to the so-called Deming cycle (PDCA), which was developed in Japan in the 1950s. The foundations on which the whole Kaizen philosophy rests are described by four parts of it
A plan – create an action plan, never do anything without first planning these actions, it will increase the effectiveness of actions and the chance of success,
To – implement the plan you have previously drawn up,
Check – check the changes that your plan has introduced and judge if they are positive and truly improve the processes or the situation in the company,
Act – if you detect any irregularities in the previous stage, this is the moment to correct them, if you do not manage to solve all the problems, repeat the whole process until you do.
In practice, this process may look like this:
The employee notices a problem in the company that can be solved or reduced, such as a non-optimal production process, team communication bottlenecks, or waste of resources. He or she reports the problem to his or her superior together with a solution proposal,
The same employee further develops idea on his own or with the support of a team,
The supervisor responsible for evaluating the idea analyses it within 24 hours, consults the employee, and encourages immediate action (if the idea is a real improvement and is possible),
In the case of a positive outcome, the employee implements the project with the help of an adequate team and under the supervision of the manager,
After the project is completed, it is evaluated by the supervisor and other employees, if the project is considered to have a positive impact on the company’s operations, it is introduced as a new standard,
The employee is paid a salary commensurate with the workload he has put into his solution and the scale of the problem he has helped to solve.
10 Kaizen rules
The Kaizen concept contains 10 principles that allow everyone to apply it at every level and in every aspect of life.
Watch the problems as if they were opportunities
Stagnation in the company is a very dangerous situation, which must be eliminated as soon as possible by applying Kaizen measures. To start the process of change, it is necessary to accept the defects and imperfections of the current procedures and constantly look for ways to remedy them. This principle says that every problem is an opportunity for change and improvement. Have you lost a customer? Maybe it is time to improve your offer. The project has brought losses? Maybe it is time to change the pricing system. Is the competition developing faster than you? Think about what you can do better. Most often we develop when circumstances force us to do so, and problems in the company must be treated as an opportunity to change for the better and not a reason to break down.
Ask ‘why?’ five times.
This is a method of getting to what is not obvious. In many companies, the sources of problems are deeply buried and you will not see them at first sight. A good example of this is the reaction to seeing weeds in our backyard.
Why am I seeing weeds? Because no one has pulled them out.
Why did nobody pull them out? Because I do not employ a gardener.
Why am I not hiring a gardener? Because I don’t have the money for it.
Why don’t I have money for this? Because I don’t earn enough.
Why am I not earning enough? Because I should change jobs.
In this way, we can get to the source of the problem and solve it as quickly as possible, in this case by looking for a new job. This way of thinking can be applied in every area of life, not just in professional life.
Take ideas from everyone
Search for ideas involving everyone you can. Do you see that your competitor is doing better than you? Find out why, when you see what he does better than you, you can draw on his knowledge and make those changes in your company. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. Drawing on all possible sources is the best thing you can do for your company and make real changes that have already been tested in other companies.
Think about solutions that can be implemented
It is a very simple principle, but one of the most important. Take advantage of what you have and do not force new things. Simpler solutions are usually better and cheaper, and the easier it is to introduce something, the higher the chance that it will work.
Use your cleverness instead of money
The lack of money is just another excuse. Instead of treating it as an impossible problem, look at it as another challenge. There are many things you can do cheaper if you find a simpler way, but if you cannot do something cheaper, find a way to get the money.
Correct mistakes as they happen.
Kaizen is not only a method for patient people but also intelligent. If you make changes in your process and see problems in it, correct them as you go along. Nothing is perfect and accepting this fact will help you to see your mistakes and seeing them will help you to correct them.
There is no end to improvement
There are no perfect things, there is always something you can improve in your company. Don’t settle down, just look for a way to turn one success into another.
Small actions are simpler than big actions and we see examples of them everywhere around us. They may be slower and require more patience than radical change, but they are safe and allow you to maintain total control over the changing process. Does the combination of lower costs, greater security, and total control convince you? If so, the Kaizen philosophy is just for you.