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    Apply Kaizen Anywhere


    Japan is a country that gave birth to many productivity, management and sustainability concepts. Some examples are the 5S concept, Kanban, Kaikaku, and Muda. 5S and Kanban are well-known for management; Kaikaku talks about radical changes; and Muda is about lean thinking. The development of Japanese technology and their development as a country shows us the effectiveness of their methods. In this article, we are concentrating on the Kaizen method. In this article we are concentrating about Kaizen method. This will be a good help for the people who thinking about starting a company, started a company, or who have much established companies. As an individual also Kaizen method will be very helpful. It should mentioned at the beginning that Kaizen method is a proven one, when it comes to the development. 

    Kaizen stands for “continuous change” or “change for good”. It is a little bit hard to literally translate the word “Kaizen” (改善) to English, but the meaning goes like above. The word Kaizen originates from the Chinese language, meaning to “make a change” (gǎi shàn). So, we can all agree with the point that this word is trying to make.

    Kaizen itself is an agile practice. It iteratively makes changes and gets feedback. Problems can be overcome according to the feedback. The Kaizen method gives “good practices” by reviewing everyday work. It may be not possible to add improvements every day, yet the Kaizen philosophy takes a step back and considers what’s happening. Kaizen does not consider previous achievements. It constantly finds the areas to develop and applies fixes. It always improves something in the system. Kaizen does not see problems as a weak point; it always sees a problem as an opportunity to improve.

    In the Kaizen strategy, tasks are distributed among all levels of employees. This is a collective effort. The person who is most experienced in a certain area performs the tasks related to their area. They will not be appointed to any other tasks. Like that, the tasks are distributed amongst the entire staff from higher management to lower-level employees. So, the person who’s performing the task will have confidence and own their work.

    Teamwork is the key here. It’s obvious that this strategy helps not only the whole organization work better, but also the personal improvement of employees. By applying improvements as small separate parts to the whole system, it makes the system run smoothly. So, in general, Kaizen is everyone’s job.

    In higher levels, Kaizen looks at the process: How should the process run, and what changes should be applied? Accordingly, those changes are converted to an effort of the people. Usually, in every company structure or management structure, employees are considered the problem-makers who direct a system to an issue. But in Kaizen, the problems are seen from a process viewpoint. Then employees can contribute to achieving the target of the process, by identifying issues they see; either big or small.

    The most important factor here is, in a Kaizen system, the employees should also be persons who continuously try to improve themselves. Also, employees, rather than sticking to their jobs, “contribute” to achieving the collective goal, and they know how their role fits into the whole system. Kaizen keeps tabs in terms of the performance of the process, but conventional management processes measure the progress of an employee. Process-centred concentration in the kaizen system reduces the alterations from the main target path.

    Main Concepts

    Three Pillars of Kaizen

    According to Masaaki Imai, a Japanese organizational theorist and management consultant, there are three main things that hold Kaizen together:

    • House Keeping
    • Waste Elimination
    • Standardization

    1. House Keeping

    The process of managing the workplace for improvement purposes is called housekeeping in Kaizen. For housekeeping, the 5S method is used. 5S is a very popular method when it comes to tidiness and organizing things. Seiri (Sort), Seiton (Set in order), Seiso (Clean), Seiketsu (Standardize), and Shitsuke (Sustain) are not new to us. Using the 5S method improves the orderliness of work.

    2. Waste Elimination

    This is also called “Muda”. In Japanese, “Muda” means waste. How the elimination happens is, all the non-value-adding activities or resources are considered “waste”, and they are eliminated.

    There are seven types of waste classifications mentioned in Kaizen:

    • Overproduction
    • Inventory
    • Defects
    • Motion
    • Overprocessing
    • Waiting
    • Transportation

    Waste elimination is mainly focused on removing these items.

    Overproduction waste happens when the production line gets ahead of the targets. This results in too much resource usage and product waste.

    Inventory Waste is about the parts that sitting in the inventory without any usage. They can be spare parts, half-finished items, or fully finished items. Whatever they are, they occupy a space in storage and add some maintenance cost.

    Defective items are the ones that need repairing or are totally rejected items. They need some extra effort to get back to life. Kaizen strategy is to reduce this type of items as well.

    Motion is something different. It’s about reducing excessive movement of employees or workers inside the workplace. This includes unnecessarily handling of weights as well. The worker is more efficient when they are utilizing their hand or leg moves rather than doing unnecessary movements.

    Process waste elimination is done by reducing bottlenecks in the process. Also getting the same output by using fewer resources is a part of process waste elimination

    Waiting Elimination is done by maintaining the consistency of the workflow. The workers will never wait until the previous process to complete. It has to continue, always, without pause. Even seconds of waiting time is considered a waste in Kaizen. This reduces the cost of operations and leads to good delivery of the product. A streamlined process is a good solution for this.

    Transport wastage means the unnecessary transportation of goods. It is eliminated by keeping the necessary equipment or essential parts closer to the production line. No excessive physical distance is maintained.

    So, that’s about waste elimination. Standardization is the next important pillar of Kaizen.

    3. Standardization

    Standardization sets up a set of standards for the process. It helps to improve and change the process continuously. The process or project is always somewhere in the standards. Standardization helps to locate the place where the process is at, and organize the work logically. Usually, this is a management-level job. In order to help the standardization, management uses the PDCA cycle:

    • Plan
    • Do
    • Check
    • Act

    The Planning phase is for carefully investigating goals, analyzing data and making a plan. After that, all the employees are supposed to follow the plan

    ‘Do’ is where the plan comes to practice. Also, when performing the plan, taking notes about setbacks or problems must be done.

    In the Check phase, all the setbacks and encounters are analyzed carefully. If there is a point where an improvement is applicable, they are applied. Basically, the application of countermeasures happens here. In order to perform a more detailed problem analysis and countermeasures application, the 5W method is used. In the 5W method, the question “why” is asked of the problems and setbacks at least five times. This can go on for over five times, but five times is enough in almost every case.

    In the beginning, the identified method is considered, along with why it happened and the cause. Then move to the cause of the first problem and ask why that happened. Once the cause of the issue is found, the why is asked again, and this cycle repeats five times. Using this method, a root cause is identified.

    Act is the phase where the solutions are applied to the root cause that was identified in the Check phase. If the 5W were not asked, a fix will be added to the top level, which will be useless and the problem will occur again. That’s why resolving the root cause is important.

    There is a set of very important features in standardization. Standardization gives the best way to perform a task. It always maintains the know-how and expertise knowledge perfectly. Measurement performing is easy with standardization, and provides the relationship between an action and consequence. Standardization helps for maintenance, improvement, training and diagnostics.

    Kaizen Umbrella Concepts

    The Kaizen Umbrella lists the concepts inside the Kaizen method, which shows the supporting concepts of Kaizen methodology.

    Five Major elements in Kaizen

    1. Teamwork

    As mentioned earlier, Kaizen considers the whole organization as one team that is in the process and goes to a specific target. In order to be successful in achieving the goal, the full entity has to work properly.

    2. Personal Discipline

    As mentioned earlier, Kaizen considers the whole organization as one team that is in the process and goes to a specific target. In order to be successful in achieving the goal, the full entity has to work properly.

    3. Improved Morale

    Morale gives energy to all the workers or employees to do the task. Kaizen is about reaching a specific target at a given time. Low morale levels will reduce the workers’ effectiveness and collectively, the whole process will go down.

    4. Quality Circles

    Performing a quality circle is necessary when it comes to quality maintenance. Here, a selected committee will regularly discuss the problems in work quality. They will analyze everything and identify the real problem. This team conveys the quality issues to the management.

    5. Suggestion Improvement

    Every employee must be able to identify any issue in any place. This is not limited to their area of expertise or work. In Kaizen, every employee is supposed to follow this. So, the system can have many improvements.

    How to apply Kaizen – To Anywhere

    The special thing about Kaizen is it’s not just an industrial practice. It’s applicable anywhere even in day-to-day life. Applying Kaizen has several steps.

    • Problem or Opportunity Identification
    • Problem Analysis
    • Solution Development
    • Implementation
    • Result Analysis
    • Standardize

    These are the basic set of steps in Kaizen. However, these are not one-time. This process is repeated in a frequent manner. They can be days or weeks. However, the repetition should be there. If not repeated, the “continuous improvement” that is expected from Kaizen will not happen.

    Step 1 – Problem or Opportunity Identification

    This step involves carefully going through the process and identifying the places that can be improved. The places that can be problems or not problems. Even if it’s not a problem, but can be improved, it’s noted in the first step.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the famous idiom does not apply here in any case. If there is an opportunity, taking it is the best step. When applying Kaizen to personal life, bad habits or issues can be noted down in this step. Also, the places to be improved. In an industrial setting, the areas for improvement are identified. Involving the whole staff for this step is very important because, the issues in all levels and all sections, and the missed and ignored ones are going to be covered.

    Step 2 – Problem Analysis

    In the analyzing step, all the areas and problems that were identified in earlier steps are broken into smaller problems. Improvable areas are divided into many smaller pieces. All these are not going to be approached at once. If a section of a company is having a certain issue, using 5W in this step would be quite helpful to analyze the issue and break it down.

    Step 3 – Solution development

    The addressing of all the broken-down issues happens in this stage. For all the solutions, a certain time frame and a plan are assigned here. In personal life and a company, tasks are prioritized in this particular step. If everything is so complicated and looks like too much work, the priorities will be given in order of the difficulty; the easiest task first. Another approach is starting with the activity which makes a bigger difference.

    Step 4 – Implementation

    Implementing the developed solutions happens here. All the solutions are monitored on the run.

    Step 5 – Result analysis

    Now all the monitored activities will be taken into consideration. The particular action or actions put in to fix a problem or modification will be analyzed to see if it gave the desired output. Brainstorming happens to check for other possible modifications. This will increase the possibility of getting more alternative methods.

    Step 6 – Standardize

    As mentioned in the earlier section, standardizing all the work and processes happens in this stage.

    Now it’s a matter of repeating the process, and continuous improvement will automatically happen.

    How the Toyota Used/Using Kaizen for their development – Case Study

    Toyota is an automotive market giant from Japan. There is no one that can challenge Toyota’s production quality and market availability. Toyota cars are considered affordable and good quality cars. They were very good at selling cars to the middle-class and still are. In 2012, they produced 10 million vehicles per year, which was the first time an automobile company made such a record production.

    Toyota is actually the main reason this Kaizen method got highlighted. They released a set of principles and methods they use in the company, called “The Toyota Way”. It showed how the company used these philosophies to perform their work.

    In Toyota, employees are empowered and motivated to look and report the problems or give insights about improvable places, and it’s their responsibility. Every person in the company takes ownership of their work, so they can convert their workflow into an innovative, easy method. They use Kaizen from a very early stage of development. This method actually makes it “calm work” rather than “more work”.


    Kaizen is very advantageous when it comes to constant development. However, Kaizen is not just a single concept. It’s a process that consists of many concepts. Kaizen is applicable anywhere. The important thing is consistency. You have to repeatedly do the process steps to get the desired outcome. Kaizen looks at everything from a process viewpoint rather than a people viewpoint. The entrepreneurs who follow Kaizenwill definitely get drastic changes in your income from business and/or companyFor entrepreneurs, you should first try to identify the issues in your company. As an example, the points where the development team lag, or the points where deployment lags. Now we can analyze the issue and go to the root. If the deployment is lagging you can see if the tools are not right, or the people are lacking skills. Accordingly, you can come up with a solution to get the work done. If the people are lacking skills, you can give them proper training. If the tools are not right, you can change the tools. That is the solution formulating and application process. Then the next step is to analyze the results. You can check if you are getting the expected output. If not you can reconsider solutions and make necessary changes. Once the necessary changes are done and the expected results are there, now it’s time to standardize. You can add to company routines that, all the people who will be recruited in the future for deployment section, is necessary to undergo company training. And since correct tools are identified, you can make them as the default deployment tools. Now that is how you insert Kaizen and as the last part, you can redo all the steps above, to find all issues in company and fix them. 
     – Written by Kasun Bamunuarachchi.

    Cover Picture Source : Photo by Lenny Kuhne on Unsplash
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