Getting the Most Out of Kaizen

The term Kaizen comes from two Japanese words. Kai, which means change, and Zen, which means good. In the manufacturing world, this generally gets translated to mean change for the better, which is the basis for the concept of continuous improvement. Companies that aren’t always looking for ways to improve will find that they are left behind because their competitors are working hard to overtake them. This is why all companies can benefit from some type of implementation of Kaizen concepts.

Simply making change for the sake of change, however, can actually cause more harm than good. Companies need to make sure they are following proven processes to eliminate waste, improve productivity, streamline processes, and make other positive improvements. One great way to do this is to look at Kaizen principals for how Kaizen is being used throughout the facility.

Continuous Improvement of Kaizen

This may sound odd at first, but it is actually a great strategy for most companies. Facilities often learn about Kaizen and then start looking for changes to the way they do things in order to improve. This leaves the concept of how to push the company toward continuous improvement largely unchanged for years. Taking the time to think about what strategies are being used, and how effective they are, can help a company to make adjustments to their core Kaizen principals that can have very positive impacts.

One of the ways that this can be done is by creating Kaizen groups. Most organizations will be familiar with Kaizen groups since they are a common strategy used to find opportunities for improvement throughout the facility. Having a group that is focused on improving the Kaizen strategies themselves can be a worthy investment of time. Evaluating the way your company uses Kaizen, and making improvements where possible, will help to really get the most out of this great program.

Turn Your Eyes to Smaller Improvements

Another way to get the most out of your Kaizen strategy is to start looking for smaller and smaller improvement opportunities. Companies often love Kaizen at first because it is easy to look for the ‘low hanging fruit’ when it comes to improvement opportunities. With relatively little effort they can make adjustments that yield very significant benefits.

After all the easy changes have been made, however, it becomes more difficult to find areas where significant changes that need to be made. When this happens, it is time to start looking for smaller improvement opportunities. For most manufacturing environments, even small improvements can provide great benefits over a longer period of time. For example, if you can reduce the amount of waste produced by even a fraction of a percentage, that will translate into real savings when making millions of products.

Look at Changes that have Already Been Made

Another thing that many companies overlook after they have already been using Kaizen for a while are systems that have already gone through the Kaizen process. Organizations often feel that once a particular process has been improved that it no longer needs additional attention. In reality, however, it may be possible to find additional ways to make improvements after months or years have gone by.

Even if the processes that were developed through the original Kaizen effort are still the best practices, it may be that the employees aren’t following them properly anymore. Taking another look at the way things are being done is a great way to get people back on track so that the company can enjoy all the benefits that were put in place originally.

Empower Employees

One last area that deserves attention in an organization that is already effectively using Kaizen strategies is the employees themselves. Looking at employees to see how the company can improve them may be a smart investment. For example, providing existing employees with training and advancement opportunities is a great way to get additional productivity from them while also giving them a great benefit. Focusing on improving the workplace for employees can give some great benefits including the following:

  • Increased Engagement – An engaged employee is going to be much more productive than one who is just there to do the minimum amount of work needed. Improving employee engagement is a great way to empower workers to focus on new ways that the company can be improved.
  • Reduced Time Away – Happy employees are less likely to take sick days when they don’t really need them. Increasing employee satisfaction makes people want to come to work each day rather than dreading it.
  • Lower Turnover Rates – Not surprisingly, happier employees are less likely to leave the company. Reducing turnover can help to dramatically lower the costs of onboarding new people.
  • Better Loss Prevention – Satisfied employees are less likely to steal products or damage them.
  • Fewer HR Complaints – Unhappy employees file more complaints with HR. Treating employees well can reduce the number of complaints against the company as well as against other employees.

Using Kaizen methodologies, it is possible to identify areas of change that will have the biggest positive impact for employees. Going through the Kaizen process, and including the employees themselves, will help to drive ongoing improvement for the people as well as the company.

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