Business-wide reforms can be time-consuming in unforeseen ways. This need not be the case, however. Kaizen is a well-known strategy that promises significant company transformations in days or weeks, as opposed to months or years. Kaizen, which was established by Toyota as part of its renowned operational efficiency approach known as “The Toyota Way,” is the Japanese word for “improvement.” The objective is to bring together teams from throughout the organization to shatter paradigms and rethink procedures in a short period of time.
What is the Kaizen methodology?
Kaizen can be used to improve complex, multi-department processes rapidly and radically. A “Kaizen blitz” typically entails a few days or a week of intensive brainstorming, followed by a few weeks of solution implementation. Kaizen is not intended to replace the more prevalent method of continuous improvement, which entails making small adjustments daily to increase production and solve problems.
Continuous improvement is essential, but there is a limit to how much can be accomplished with small, incremental efforts. Occasionally, it is necessary to entirely reconsider one’s behavior. Kaizen can also be implemented when there are no obvious issues. According to an adage, if you have no difficulties, you have a serious problem. Things can always be improved. After achieving a goal, you should modify it and make it more challenging.
How to execute Kaizen: Five stages of Kaizen
The five steps of Kaizen are sometimes referred to as “phases.”
Clarify the obligation
The first step is for the leadership of your organization to assemble a cross-functional team and give them a directive to enhance a process. The specific mandate should:
- Describe what the problem is and why it is a problem
- Give supporting statistics
- Establish an improvement target
A source of waste could be that staff spend a great deal of time walking to the printer to get documents, for instance. The objective could be to eliminate document printing.
Continuous improvement may involve relocating equipment closer to personnel in order to reduce waste, and this may be an example of an incremental improvement. The Kaizen strategy is to question, “How can I eliminate the need for this equipment entirely?”
The most prevalent cause for Kaizen exercises to fail is a vague directive. You must ensure that participants’ time is invested effectively. Ambitious expectations or lack of focus are certain to destroy the endeavor.
A facilitator should be selected who can promote open-ended, out-of-the-box debate and innovative ideas for how to break paradigms. A skilled facilitator will act as a guide and will never tell the Kaizen team, “This is what you must do;” instead, they should offer the team free reign to design a new process to fulfill the mandate.
Comprehend the current procedure
The next step is to fully comprehend the current procedure, including its flaws. Develop a consensus of where the process is failing and the most important aspects of the new process that must be altered.
This step must extensively incorporate the three pillars of lean thinking:
a) Travel to see
It is essential to visit your factory or office and examine how work is actually performed (not how you believe it is being performed or how it is meant to be performed). A Gemba walk is the act of physically walking the facility. The objective is to identify the eight categories of waste—efforts that increase customer expenses without delivering value.
When calculating the total delay and labor required to complete the task, every 10 minutes should be filled with aha moments and jaw-dropping. A qualified facilitator will use the Kaizen approach to identify all waste and convey to the team that significant change is required.
b) Query why
You should inquire as to why processes or tasks are performed as they are. This may include a root cause analysis to uncover the underlying causes of problems and a Pareto analysis to determine which issue areas to prioritize in order to optimize the effects of improvement efforts.
c) Involve your team
Respect employees by incorporating them in reflections, change planning, and execution. This helps secure buy-in and causes a shift in your team’s culture toward an awareness of additional value.
Establish the new standard procedure
Now, the team is prepared to design a new procedure that would significantly increase efficiency. We currently require three weeks to complete this task; we want to be able to complete it in 36 hours. Consider how we can complete the task in 12 minutes.
They will all say, “That’s completely insane.” We cannot do so. Here is what we would require if you want us to achieve this.’ Aha, they are now beginning to break paradigms and implement a whole new process from the ground up. The new procedure should adhere to the seven tenets of the “Toyota Way.”
Seven tenets of the “Toyota Way”
- Continuous flow: Businesses should strive to maintain a continuous, efficient flow of activities, materials, and information.
- Pull: synchronize production with client demand.
- Load balancing: distribute burden evenly among resources.
- Focus on quality: Prioritize quality management and problem solving to foster a quality-focused culture.
- Standardize tasks: Adopt and document repeatable processes and encourage continuous development of standards.
- Utilize visual controls: Facilitate the visibility and comprehension of critical information with simple visual cues. This approach also entails using the 5S strategy for workplace organization.
- Utilize proven technology: Utilize tested and trustworthy technology to help your staff, the aforementioned principles, and lean thinking.
Create a strategy of action
The Kaizen team is now prepared to draft an implementation strategy for the new procedure. Included in the plan should be a list of initiatives, a schedule, and key performance metrics (KPIs).
There should be KPIs for both the implementation process and the desired outcomes.
For instance, one action step could be to digital invoices and eliminate the need to print and mail them.
Metrics for a process could include research into software possibilities, software acquisition, implementation, and personnel training.
Invoice processing time and cost, erroneous payment rates, and invoice exception rates could be used as performance indicators.
Implement action items
Plan to implement action initiatives rapidly, within a few days or weeks and no more than three months. Otherwise, the implementation will lose its flavor. In order to achieve a seamless and speedy implementation, team buy-in is especially vital in phase five.
Implementation may include trials to test ideas, determine what is effective, and make inexpensive errors for the sake of learning. It is crucial to acknowledge that some steps will inevitably fail and that your team is permitted to fail while learning.
It will never be flawless from the start. Teams must be let to fail, as failure is inherent to the process. This is the way we learn.