Yakima County Development Association - What's Kaizen and Why Do I Need It?

Jean Brown

Article by:
Jean Brown

Jean publishes a blog called the Enterprise Corner.  It features articles on entrepreneurship, local industry trends, manufacturing news and periodic ‘toolbox’ articles showcasing assistance, incentives and other resources for local businesses.



What's Kaizen and Why Do I Need It?

April 19, 2013

kaizenfunnyThe Kaizen philosophy is a Japanese term meaning “improvement”, or “change for the better” and can be applied in business to practices that focus on continuous improvement as it relates to processes in manufacturing, engineering, processing and business management. Kaizen, a systematic approach and problem-solving tool adopted from the Toyota Production System (TPS) that is aimed at quickly implementing low-cost improvements that result in measurable impact.  While Kaizen traditionally and primarily has focused on production and efficiency numbers, it can effectively be shifted to improving safety and ergonomics as well. Kaizen is based on making little changes on a regular basis, always improving productivity, safety and effectiveness while reducing waste. Kaizen is a system that involves every employee from upper management to the cleaning crew. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis. This is not a once a month or once a year activity, it is continuous. In most cases these are not ideas for major changes.  Kaizen events are characterized as short bursts of intense activity driven toward resolving a specific problem or achieving a specific company goal in a short period of time. A typical Kaizen event may last several days, with a core team of employees reorganizing and standardizing a work area to create a safer and more efficient working environment. Employee trKaizen_Posteraining and communication is the most important element to a Kaizen approach. Combined with that, direct involvement by management is critical.  If management isn't ready to lead by example, Kaizen will not get off the ground. For example, a manager spending a week on the shop floor working with employees to help and encourage them to develop suggestions is a start. That manager should also ensure employees see their suggestions acted on immediately. Suggestions should not be implemented next month or next week, but today. In some cases, a suggestion submitted in the morning can be implemented that afternoon, or sooner.  If it’s not that quick, then keep employees informed about what happens with their suggestions. Don't have suggestions disappear into a management "black hole." To encourage the submission of suggestions, a part of each supervisor's evaluation should be based on the number of suggestions submitted by those they supervise. Don't evaluate employees on the number of suggestions they submit, evaluate your supervisors and managers and how well they are doing at getting those who work for them to actively participate in Kaizen. A company can expect see results like these when Kaizen is fully implemented; Kaizen Reduces Waste in areas such as inventory, waiting times, transportation, worker motion, employee skills, over production, excess quality and in processes. Kaizen Improves space utilization, product quality, use of capital, communications, production capacity and employee retention. Kaizen Provides immediate results. Instead of focusing on large, capital intensive improvements, Kaizen focuses on creative investments that continually solve large numbers of small problems. Large, capital projects and major changes will still be needed, and Kaizen will also improve the capital projects process, but the real power of Kaizen is in the on-going process of continually making small improvements that improve processes and reduce waste.  

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