Kaizen - keep up the good work!

Kaizen - keep up the good work!

Many people will have heard of Kaizen as a business model, and it gets bandied about with phrases like ‘lean’ and ‘Six Sigma’ and all that stuff – but what actually is it, and does it make any difference?

I freely admit to being a bit of a ‘business-model tart’!  I like to cherry-pick the best bits from a whole host of methodologies, because that way I can usually find some approach that will fit both the situation and the client.  Of course, often you don’t need a model at all but, when you do, Kaizen is a pretty useful one.

It’s Japanese, of course, and translates as ‘change to be good’, basically.  I’m not going to go into huge detail here, as there are many levels, and only so much time to read posts like this, but in essence the model can be applied to efficiency, quality and process problems, meaning that it can be pretty useful across a wide range of business problems.  That’s why I like it!

The full model specifies kaizen meetings – periodic get-togethers of the whole business or department where staff come up with suggestions for improvements in their areas.  Communication across all levels of the business is a core principle of kaizen. These meetings are also good team-building opportunities and tend to improve morale, as everyone feels involved in the business decisions.

Waste not, want not

The emphasis should initially be on eliminating waste.   There are a significant number of things that could be considered waste.  One of the biggest is inventory-related – over-production, defective product and surplus materials are all waste (primarily of cash, but that’s another story!)

Over-production is particularly dangerous, as it can cover a multitude of sins.  It can mask production problems, especially with lead times, because you’re making the stuff before you need it.  On top of which you need to store it and move it about, all of which adds cost.

Defective product means that not only do you have a customer service problem, but also you have wasted all the time and effort spent on making the goods – you then have to implement new processes to try and recover some value from the defective stock.

Surplus raw materials, or finished goods, are a big drain on your available cash reserves, usually.  If they are not actively adding value while they are in the business (in other words, being consumed) then this is a waste.

There are plenty of other areas where waste can be uncovered – you may be operating some process in a more expensive manner than necessary; you may be moving things about too much (not only wasting time but also risking damage or loss); there may be bottlenecks and delays in your processes causing inaction and downtime.

The Five S’s …

Once you have identified your waste, kaizen proposes five areas to help focus on an improvement.  In Japanese these all conveniently begin with an ‘s’, but not in English!

  • Seiri (tidiness) – keep items not needed for the current process out of the way.
  • Seiton (ordeliness) – the allocation of equipment, materials and resources, right place, right time!
  • Seiso (cleanliness) – a well-maintained environment helps enforce morale and keeps employees happy.
  • Seiketsu (scheduled cleaning) – a cycle of cleaning and organisation – ‘continuous improvement’.
  • Shitsuke (discipline) – taking personal responsibility for things, including the elements above.

Looking at these five principles, it’s easy to see the Japanese influence behind them – the ordered and disciplined approach, and the degree of ownership and accountability.  There is a bit of a culture-shock for many businesses, but that doesn’t mean to say that cherry-pickers (like me!) can’t take elements from this and make them work for your business.

It’s common sense, really – look for waste and eliminate it, and keep the place tidy.  It’s not hard to accept that your business will work better if you do that.

Continuous improvement

So, when you have your kaizen meetings each week, the goals should be:

  • Establish the scope of the issues under discussion, and the goal you want to achieve.
  • Look for facts – perception and reality are not the same thing!
  • Brainstorm some solutions, and try and settle on one.
  • Implement the chosen solution.
  • Monitor that implementation, and apply the principles of continuous improvement (plan, do , check, act) in order to modify it, if required, on an ongoing basis.

Involving the staff in this process is one of the strongest features of a kaizen implementation.  The buy-in from the factory floor will be far greater than with some ‘management initiative’ that has just been dropped on them from on high, so kaizen implementations are more likely to stock and produce benefit.

The principles will work their way through the organisation, given time, and whilst you may not end up quite as clean and shiny as a Japanese factory, you should find that the principles will become part of your business culture quite quickly.

For more on implementing this type of initiative in your business, please call me on 01438 832724, or contact me here.

One Comment
Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *