Kaizen, which translates roughly to "good change," is a Japanese productivity philosophy, used by the likes of Toyota, in their famous Toyota Production System to promote serious organizational change. The philosophy is that constant and continuous, improvement is conducive to big, long-term advancements. The Kaizen mantra is that "everything can always be improved."
Kaizen and Market Leadership
Toyota famously embodied the Kaizen philosophy in their production warehouses. They believed that all employees should have an input into Toyota's self-improvement, so much so, that any worker on a production line can stop the line at any time to address a perceived problem, correct an error, or suggest to management a better way to do things with the object of waste reduction and increased efficiency. The results of Toyota's production system are phenomenal, resulting in their rapid market domination and high-profit margins. Toyota began offering instruction in the methodology to others most notably non-profit organizations with the goal of improving their efficiency and increasing their impact. After three months of working with Toyota SPB, a disaster relief organization based out of New Orleans reported that their home rebuilds had been reduced from 12 to 18 weeks to 6 weeks. Further, construction industries reported that after employing the Toyota method (Kaizen) construction errors had reduced by 50 percent.
Why Kaizen works
Kaizen means that nothing is ever seen as a status quo – there is a continuous, collective force to improve everything which results in small, often imperceptible, changes over time. These incremental changes add up to substantial long-term advancements, without having to go through any radical and often risky, innovations. It's a much safer and employee-friendly way to instill changes that must occur for a business to be truly competitive.
How to implement Kaizen
Notably, Kaizen is a philosophy, as opposed to a methodology meaning that it can be implemented in various ways from employee suggestion boxes to more rigorous employee inclusion methods such as Total Quality Management.
The most effective way to implement Kaizen is to understand the core elements of the Japanese production system, which can and has been, successfully applied to any work environment.
Much of the focus is on reducing "waste" and this waste can be identified in the following ways;
- Movement – moving materials (or people) around before further value can be added to them
For example, moving people to different locations for meetings when it can be done virtually or having databases of information which take time and effort to get into (such as contact details) when these could be printed and put on a wall.
- Time – spent waiting (no value is being added during this time)
For example, enforcing prompt meetings and properly organized calls where non-attendees are reduced.
- Defects – which require re-work or have to be thrown away
This has a lot more to do with effective delegation than employee incompetence. If a junior had been briefed properly than re-works should be eliminated - if not then it's a hiring system failure.
- Over-processing – doing more to the product than is necessary to give the "customer" maximum value for money
This can range from adding too much detail to presentations/document designs - streamlining decision making lines.
- Variations – producing bespoke solutions where a standard one will work just as well.
For example, creating new documents when you could use a precedent.