The dual nature: KAIZEN consists of the parts action plan and philosophy.

KAIZEN is a powerful practice in Lean Management that focuses on continuous improvement. It encourages small, incremental changes in processes, resulting in significant improvements over time. The word “KAIZEN” comes from two Japanese words: “KAI” meaning “improvement”, and “ZEN” meaning “good”.

KAIZEN can be implemented in various sectors, including manufacturing and administration. It involves engaging all employees, from top-level executives to frontline workers, in suggesting and implementing improvements to the organization.

KAIZEN workshops are organized to target specific areas of improvement, following a structured action plan. These workshops foster collaboration and create a culture of continuous improvement. Cross-functional teams collaborate to identify problems, analyze root causes, and implement solutions. The primary goal of such workshops is to achieve significant improvements in a short period of time. Remember, KAIZEN is not a one-time event but a long-term commitment to continual improvement.

The Dual Nature

KAIZEN has a dual nature, serving as both an action plan and a philosophy. By embracing KAIZEN as both an action plan and a philosophy, organizations can create a culture of continuous improvement where every employee actively contributes to making positive changes. This approach leads to increased productivity, improved quality, enhanced workplace safety, and a stronger organizational culture.

KAIZEN Action Plan

As an action plan, KAIZEN involves organizing events focused on improving specific areas within a company. These events gather teams of employees at all levels, with a strong emphasis on involving plant floor workers. The action plan follows a structured process, including setting goals, reviewing the current state, implementing improvements, reviewing and fixing what doesn’t work, and reporting results.

One of the key tools used in KAIZEN is the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle, which provides a scientific approach to making improvements. The cycle involves setting goals, reviewing the current state, implementing improvements, evaluating results, and making any necessary refinements or adjustments.

A typical KAIZEN event goes something like this:

  • Set goals and provide any necessary background.
  • Review the current state and develop a plan for improvements.
  • Implement improvements.
  • Review and fix what doesn’t work.
  • Report results and determine any follow-up items.

This type of cycle is frequently referred to as PDCA which brings a scientific approach to making improvements:

  • Plan / Problem Finding (develop a hypothesis)
  • Do / Display (run experiment)
  • Check / Clear (evaluate results)
  • Act / Acknowledge (refine your experiment; then start a new cycle)
KAIZEN Philosophy

On the other hand, KAIZEN is also a philosophy that aims to create a culture of continuous improvement within an organization. It encourages all employees to actively engage in suggesting and implementing improvements. In truly lean companies, Kaizen becomes a natural way of thinking for both managers and workers.

By consistently applying KAIZEN as an action plan and maintaining a sustained program of successful Kaizen events, a culture of continuous improvement develops. This culture is crucial for effectively implementing KAIZEN as a philosophy and achieving long-term value.

Remember, KAIZEN is not just a one-time event, but a commitment to continual improvement and the development of a collaborative and proactive organizational culture.

“Pull your finger out and leave your footprint.”
– Eric Roth

In addition to the PDCA cycle, there are various other tools available in the KAIZEN toolbox to achieve continuous improvement. These tools can help identify waste, optimize processes, and enhance overall efficiency. Examples of such tools include value stream mapping, 5S methodology, root cause analysis, and Kanban.

The 5S Methodology

The history of the 5S methodology was most likely born from Toyota in Japan after World War II and has also been called TPS (Toyota Production System), the original JIT (just-in-time manufacturing).

However, some believe the method may origin back as far as the 16th Century and Venice shipbuilders. The 5S methodology as a today’s part of KAIZEN may therefore be a lot older than other sets of lean techniques and tools for process improvement such as Six Sigma.

Lean + 6σ = Lean 6σ

Six Sigma which is rather based upon mathematics than philosophy and often implemented on a project basis was introduced by engineer Bill Smith while working at Motorola in 1986 and Jack Welch made it central to his business strategy at GE in 1995.

Here is a breakdown of each “S” of the 5S methodology in KAIZEN:

Each Of The 5S Explained
  • Sort (seiri) – Distinguishing between necessary and unnecessary things, and getting rid of what you do not need.
    • Remove items not used in area – outdated materials, broken equipment, redundant equipment, files on the computer, measurements which you no longer use.
    • Ask staff to tag all items which they don’t think are needed – this improves understanding about need and use.
    • Classify all equipment and materials by frequency of use to help decide if it should be removed – place ‘Red Tag’ on items to be removed.
    • Establish a ‘holding area’ for items that are difficult to classify – hold item for allotted period to enable others not on 5S team to review.
  • Straighten (seiton) – The practice of orderly storage so the right item can be picked efficiently (without waste) at the right time, easy to access for everyone. A place for everything and everything in its place.
    • Identify and allocate a place for all the materials needed for your work.
    • Assign fixed places and fixed quantity.
    • Make it compact.
    • Place heavy objects at a height where they are easy to pick from.
    • Decide how things should be put away, and obey those rules.
  • Shine (seiso) – Create a clean worksite without garbage, dirt and dust, so problems can be more easily identified (leaks, spills, excess, damage, etc).
    • Identify root causes of dirtiness, and correct process.
    • Only one work activity on a workspace at any given time.
    • Keep tools and equipment clean and in top condition, ready for use at any time.
    • Cleanliness should be a daily activity – at least 5 minutes per day.
    • Use chart with signatures/initials shows that the action or review has taken place.
    • Ensure proper lighting – it can be hard to see dirt and dust.
  • Standardize (seiketsu) – Setting up standards for a neat, clean, workplace.
    • Standardization of best practices through “visual management”.
    • Make abnormalities visible to management.
    • Keep each area consistent with one another.
    • Standards make it easy to move workers into different areas.
    • Create process of how to maintain the standard with defined roles and responsibilities.
    • Make it easy for everyone to identify the state of normal or abnormal conditions – place photos on the walls, to provide visual reminder.
  • Sustain (shitsuke) – Implementing behaviors and habits to maintain the established standards over the long term, and making the workplace organization the key to managing the process for success.
    • Toughest phase is to Sustain – many fall short of this goal.
    • Establish and maintain responsibilities – requires leader commitment to follow through.
    • Every one sticks to the rules and makes it a habit.
    • Participation of everyone in developing good habits and buy-in.
    • Regular audits and reviews.
    • Get to root cause of issues.
    • Aim for higher 5S levels – continuous improvement.

Widely applied as part of KAIZEN is not only the 5S methodology but also the logistic control system KANBAN which may constitute an important part of the Supply Chain Management (SCM). SCM is the active management of supply chain activities to maximize customer value and achieve sustainable competitive advantage.

Kanban is a popular lean management tool that originated in the manufacturing sector but has since been adopted in various industries and sectors. It is used to optimize workflow and improve overall efficiency by visualizing work, limiting work in progress, and enhancing collaboration within teams.

The word “kanban” comes from Japanese and translates to “visual signal” or “card”. It is a system that uses visual cues, typically represented by cards or sticky notes, to represent work items and track their progress through various stages of completion.

The main principles of Kanban include
  • Visualize Workflow: Kanban boards are used to visualize the workflow, providing a clear and transparent view of the tasks at hand, their status, and who is responsible for them. Each work item is represented by a card or sticky note, often organized in columns that represent different stages of the workflow.
  • Limit Work in Progress: Kanban encourages the limitation of work in progress (WIP), meaning that teams should only work on a certain number of tasks at a time. This helps prevent overburdening and ensures that focus is maintained on completing individual tasks before moving on to the next ones.
  • Manage Flow: Kanban emphasizes the smooth flow of work items through the different stages of the workflow. By monitoring and analyzing the flow of work, teams can identify bottlenecks and areas for improvement, enabling them to optimize their processes and enhance efficiency.
  • Make Policies Explicit: Kanban promotes the establishment of clear policies and guidelines for how work should be handled at each stage of the workflow. This ensures consistency, reduces ambiguity, and allows for better coordination among team members.
  • Continuous Improvement: Kanban is a continuous improvement process in which teams regularly review and refine their workflows. By identifying areas for improvement and implementing changes incrementally, teams can achieve ongoing enhancements in their productivity and efficiency.

Kanban is not limited to physical boards and can also be implemented using digital tools and software. This enables teams to collaborate remotely, track progress in real-time, and access their Kanban boards from anywhere.

Overall, Kanban provides a flexible and adaptable framework for managing and optimizing workflow, enabling teams to achieve greater efficiency, productivity, and focus on delivering value to their customers.