Kaizen is the Japanese term for continuous improvement and as such, it is essential in understanding the importance of Kaizen and its impact across operations. The term was coined by Maasaki Imai, who wrote “Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success” but it is not just a set of tools but a philosophy for continually striving to make things better for customers.
“Change for the Good”
As per the concept and philosophy behind kaizen, everything can be improved in small incremental amounts, at all levels, forever. And everyone has a role to play from the top management to the front line employees.
The challenge with many organisations who have implemented some form of Kaizen, or Kaizen Events, is that once the gains from the focused improvement activity have been gained, the process to improve simply stops. Imai believed that without active attention, the gains made would simply disappear. Therefore, Kaizen is a culture of improvement that builds continuous momentum to build upon gains through experimentation and innovation.
“Kaizen is a culture of improvement that builds continuous momentum to build upon gains through experimentation and innovation” – Leanscape
Kaizen is everyone’s responsibility to continually find ways to improve. Therefore, it should happen across the organisation from the Managing Director down to the front line employees.
Daily Kaizen generally belongs with the teams working on the front line and their team leaders and managers as they manage the day to day activities of the business unit. The goal at this level is on eliminating wastes across the day to day activities. Being the closest to the customer, and closest to the action, the front line employees are critical for finding incremental improvements to drive better customer value.
At this level, one of the key improvements that build long term potential is standardising. That is the reason we talk more about the Standardise, Do, Check, Act (SDCA) sequence rather than the PDCA which comes at the next level.
The next level is what we call Project Kaizen which is more detailed continuous improvement activities. Generally, these will be conducted by team leads, managers and middle managers and will be more complex but will also impact the way the department and business works. Value Stream Mapping and more detailed projects will be at this level.
The final level of continuous improvement is when we begin to redesign processes, try brand new ways of working, or test new products and services with our customers to maximise the customer value. The traditional approach to Design Thinking falls into this category along with the Lean Startup Approach. At this level, there is high engagement from more senior leaders within the organisation.
At this stage, we are trying to find ways to deliver new customer value, find new markets, new opportunities or completely processes and ways of working.
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