Kaizen: a Japanese term meaning “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” It is a Japanese business philosophy regarding the processes that continuously improve operations and involve all employees.
It is based on the belief that everything can be improved and nothing is status quo. It involves identifying issues and opportunities, creating solutions and rolling them out, and then cycling through the process again for other issues or problems that were inadequately addressed.
Ten principles of Kaizen
Because executing Kaizen requires enabling the right mindset throughout an organisation, 10 principles that address the Kaizen mindset are commonly referenced as core to the philosophy. These principles are:
- Let go of assumptions.
- Be proactive about solving problems.
- Don’t accept the status quo.
- Let go of perfectionism and take an attitude of iterative, adaptive change.
- Look for solutions as you find mistakes.
- Create an environment in which everyone feels empowered to contribute.
- Don’t accept the obvious issue; instead, ask “why” five times to get to the root cause.
- Cull information and opinions from multiple people.
- Use creativity to find low-cost, small improvements.
- Never stop improving.
When you first try to do something different, whether it’s changing a process, changing people’s mindsets or changing a corporate culture, it is critical that you get your people onboard. You need complete ownership and management team participation to drive any of these improvements.
Kaizen for continuous improvement
Kaizen can be implemented in a condensed four steps, known as PDCA / PDSA, the “Shewhart cycle” or “Deming cycle.” This iterative four-stage approach, for continually improving processes, products or services, involves systematically testing possible solutions, assessing the results, and implementing the ones that are shown to work.
The four phases are:
- Plan: Identify and analyze the problem or opportunity, develop hypotheses about what the issues may be, and decide which one to test.
- Do: Test the potential solution, ideally on a small scale, and measure the results.
- Check/Study: Study the result, measure effectiveness, and decide whether the hypothesis is supported or not.
- Act: If the solution was successful, implement it.
Kaizen is a philosophy that supports continuous, incremental process changes that sustain a high level of efficiency. At one level kaizen can help you personally improve the way you work by eliminating “waste”. At the organisational level, kaizen can be a powerful team-approach that harnesses suggestions and involvement from people at every level. Wide participation can serve to improve morale and satisfaction as much as it improves production, costs, and other hard measures. If you choose to bring kaizen into your workplace, you’ll be surprised at how big an impact small changes can make, and how the culture of continuous improvement can thrive.