Kaizen is a Japanese productivity philosophy. Literally it means “good change” and can be used as a productivity approach for continuous progress. Its main purpose is to introduce small improvements on a regular basis so that over time it leads to a bigger positive change. Kaizen is a mindset that can be applied anywhere, to any job. It can help to organize and enhance the way a person works as well as the way a team cooperates.
Continuous improvement with Kaizen can be broken down into six steps:
- Standardize: Come up with a well-defined process for repeatable activities.
- Measure: Measure the process efficiency using quantifiable data such as time to complete, hours spent, etc.
- Compare: Compare your measurements against your requirements. Does the process save time or instead it takes too much to complete? Does it bring the required result? Stay goal-oriented!
- Innovate: Search and find alternative ways for achieving the same results faster, cheaper or better. Open your mind to new ideas!
- Standardize: Define repeatable processes for those new, more efficient activities.
- Repeat: Start from step one again and repeat the steps. Discipline and commitment are key!
The steps will feel very natural once they become part of your mental approach to your work or team. The point of using Kaizen is not to introduce changes just for the sake of it. The goal is an incremental improvement in productivity. Be careful not to spend too much time trying new things and tools instead of actually doing your job.
Real life example, where Kaizen is practised, is the Toyota Production System. It is one of its core business principles. A popular story in business schools shares that Toyota is committed to continuous improvement. Any worker on a Toyota assembly could stop the line at any time, without the need of a permission from a manager, in order to address a problem in the production, to correct an error or to suggest improvements for doing things better that will reduce waste and improve efficiency. American auto executives visited Toyota to see how they manage to produce so many cars with just a little waste in contrast to their own production lines where many vehicles were produced, but the error rate at the end of the line was much higher. Americans were impressed by the fact that each worker can stop the line to address an issue or propose an improvement, while American auto production principle at that time was “no matter what, don’t stop the line”. After seeing the process in Toyota, Americans introduced similar processes in their production lines.
Practising Kaizen does not require buying tools or apps, to fill complicated spreadsheets or status reports. Kaizen is a mental philosophy that requires to be open to changes when they would help efficiency. Do not be defensive because “this is the way we’ve always done things”, if you really want to improve your own or your team’s work. These changes should be small steps that over time will make a difference aiming to produce quality over quantity.