Kaizen: A Japanese Way to Approach Best Practices

Kaizen: A Japanese Way to Approach Best Practices

“Kaizen” is a Japanese approach to the workplace that has proven to be a famously effective Best Practices strategy with companies like Toyota and Sony, among others. “Kai” is defined as continuous improvement while “Zen,” a more familiar term, is loosely translated as for the better or “good.” Therefore, kaizen is to make “continuous improvements for the good.”

Kaizen follows three principles: 1) process and results; 2) systemic thinking (the big picture); and 3) non-blaming, because to blame is counterproductive and wasteful in practice.

When kaizen is applied as a daily process, everyone in the company is involved, from the CEO and management team to your employees. The purpose of kaizen in the workplace is to eliminate the waste (or “muda” in Japanese) that is produced by your company, like waste in poor time management, inner office clutter, and other inefficient methods, while freeing other opportunities. Some companies hold a “Kaizen Event” where managers and employees work together to fine-tune and revise the current standards. Once a more efficient and superior system is achieved, it is then standardized and integrated into current policies, rules, and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

When you implement kaizen into the workplace, you should aspire to make changes to your current operating standards by breaking down each process in detail, monitoring the results, and then making adjustments accordingly (“If it ain’t broke, Do fix it”).

Your management team should ensure that the current SOPs are being followed. Management must “go and see” operations, or MBWA (management by walking around), in order to achieve efficient operations and take corrective actions when required. That is the only way they can fully understand their current business climate and make educated adjustments.

The Toyota Corporation is renowned for its production system, The Toyota Production System, and its principles, The 14 Principles of the Toyota Way. Kaizen is the leading philosophy behind their efficient and productive systems and methods. Jeffrey Liker is the author of The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer. He writes, “The main ideas are to base management decisions on a philosophical sense of purpose and think long-term, to have a process for solving problems, to add value to the organization by developing its people, and to recognize that continuously solving root problems drives organizational learning.”

The Toyota Way has been called “a system designed to provide the tools for people to continually improve their work.” If you are not striving for constant improvements within your company, your business is not evolving, and neither are your employees.

Everyone on your team should be included in creating and attaining a well-organized, competent, and economical system. The benefits of empowering your employees create yet another virtuous cycle. It enriches the workplace and the work experience by allowing members of your company to excel and “bring out their best.”

If your team creates more efficient processes, you will gain faster lead times and keep wages down. All of this is to help keep you ahead of your competition. You can then add those new moneymaking activities to your Best Practices and SOP arsenals for redistribution and reinforcement.

The methods that can help you successfully manage and organize the workplace in kaizen are called “the 5 S’s”, or “good housekeeping,” as referred to by others. They are set in place with the intention to simplify the work environment.

The 5S’s are loosely translated as:

Seiri (Tidiness): Unused and unneeded items are cleared out (this applies to your contact management system, too). Keeping your data organized, refreshed, properly labeled, and backed up are efficient ways for you and your staff to locate data as needed. The benefits of applying Seiri are a safer and tidier environment, less time wasted when searching for items, fewer hazards, less clutter to interfere with productive work space, and additional space from cleared out items. And possibly more brain space, too.

Seiton (Orderliness): “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Seiton focuses on the need for an orderly workplace to promote workflow. Conversely, seitan is a vegetarian meat substitute, and satan is…well, forget it.

Seiso (Cleanliness): Indicates the need to keep the workplace clean and neat daily. The key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of everyday work—not an occasional activity initiated just when things get too messy.

Seiketsu (Standardization): When the first three are set in place, they are then standardized. Create the rules, and then regulate them. Since it is easy to fall into old habits, this sets easy-to-follow standards and develops structure and conformity.

Shitsuke (Sustenance): This refers to educating and maintaining standards. Once the previous 4S’s have been established, they become the new way to operate. Maintain the system and continue to improve it.

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