Kaizen, a way of thinking that originates from the Japanese style of lean manufacturing is a collaborative, holistic approach to changes for the better involving the whole team and management within all stages of a process. It is all about an awareness of instigating continual improvement and how small incremental actions add up to large ones and how this in turn creates value for customers.
Any process from planning, to customer service or project management can benefit from Kaizen Philosophy, however Kaizen is mainly used when trying to improve an existing system.
Kaizen focuses on incremental improvements rather than exact solutions to problems, and on processes rather than results. It essentially breaks apart the overall process into individual actions and systems and investigates how to improve the overall process itself. All the people involved are encouraged to continuously examine the process and their own contribution to it to see if they can affect any improvement in it and thereby save time, effort or resources. Kaizen practitioners are prepared to find even their own errors. Each error is seen as an opportunity in the path of improvement. One main characteristic of Kaizen is finding the root causes of mistakes and correcting them.
Essentially this means that the existing situation is always being reviewed and improved. By tackling all aspects of a process, the improvements are real and continuous and result in remarkable achievements. The nature of small improvements makes them easy to implement. As every step is a small one, it is easily assimilated within a team and produces immediate results without major overhauls or expenditure. Wherever and whenever small improvements can be made, they are, and the next positive improvement becomes the next status quo, no matter how small or how infrequent the change may be. This evolution continually reestablishes what the business considers its ‘standard work’ for all validated solutions. A series of small improvements made continuously over a long period of time can result in drastic improvement.
By examining the business in this way shifts the perspective from the business’s point of view to that of the client. This is because improvement in this context forces the business to evaluate what an improvement is and why it is an improvement in the first place. This means the change must have a positive purpose and this could only mean a shift from functional and process performance based thinking to looking at how the value proposition of quality, service and cost is delivered to the customer. On this basis the end-to-end path or stream which is negotiated through all processes is the critical thing to focus on. When a business begins to see problems within the system and develops plans to eliminate them the process of continuous improvement can only result in quicker delivery and higher quality, essentially meaning that the products delivered are always better, cheaper and delivered faster. This is the quality, cost and time that most customers are concerned with and improving these is what makes a company not only competitive but always striving for excellence.
Employees remain dedicated and engaged when they are able to participate in decision making and when they feel they are contributing. A smart business teaches staff to be aware of improvement and to instigate small changes, meaning the employees are continually empowered to improve the business. The flow on effect is better outputs which is not only empowering but also offers an opportunity for pride and positive change. Kaizen is not something which people do on an hourly basis; instead, it is part of their lifestyle, and ultimately this value is passed onto the customer.