Your three-minute guide to Kaizen

Derived from the Japanese words for change (kai) and good (zen), kaizen describes the concept of continuous improvement—literally, change for the better.

The concept of kaizen originated in Japan in the 1940s and 1950s as manufacturing companies endeavored to standardize how they responded to faults and opportunities for improvement. Today, kaizen is practiced worldwide and in organizations from every industry, including health care, retail, administration, and government.

The benefits of Kaizen

It’s a common scenario in many companies that employees and management are so busy simply keeping up with the workload that errors and inefficiencies get repeated over and over. Errors may manifest differently, but they often result from the same underlying cause. Frustratingly, the people doing the work are frequently aware of the causes of problems, but they lack the appropriate resources, motivation, or support systems to address and fix the causes of issues. This is not only costly for the company in terms of time and materials, but it has further insidious affects, such as decreased employee morale and lost opportunities.

Kaizen provides the framework within which opportunities for improvement are captured, measured and acted upon. While the focus of kaizen is often on waste elimination and quality control (hence the frequent association of kaizen with Lean and Six Sigma), the return on investment extends beyond profit margin. Moreover, kaizen can be applied anywhere in the business.

Organizations that practice kaizen report experiencing greater effectiveness, efficiency, agility, customer satisfaction and higher levels of employee morale. Unlike improvement methods that focus on process at the detriment of people, kaizen is renowned for its humanizing effect. Teamwork and employee involvement is an essential attribute of kaizen.

Incremental improvements plus rapid transformation

In its original concept, kaizen focuses on gradual and continuous improvement—incremental changes that occur on a daily basis across all levels of the organization. Indeed, a key component of kaizen methodology is that every person in the company is responsible for identifying and making improvements.

Standardization is another foundation of kaizen. The notion is to set a standard and to identify opportunities to improve it—and so the kaizen cycle continues in an upward spiral of improved effectiveness and efficiency.

For companies seeking rapid change, the “kaizen event” or “kaizen blitz” is a method that achieves quick, sustainable transformation and innovation. Typically conducted over a one-week period, a kaizen event focuses on the improvement of a specific issue or problem. The results are fast, measurable and sustainable.

Implementing Kaizen in your business

Kaizen is a workable and cost-effective method for any size of organization in any industry. Wingspan Performance Advisors specialize in kaizen and kaizen event facilitation. This involves three to four weeks of pre-planning for the event, facilitating the methodology and specific problem solving technique during the week long event, and follow-up of any remaining actions after the event. A typical agenda for the kaizen event week would be four hours training on the specific technique being used, establishment of an understanding of the current state, brainstorming improvement areas, creating a future state vision, and executing that vision.

Isn’t it time to fly?

Contact Wingspan Performance Advisors today.

Written by Kylie Hughes for Wingspan Performance Advisors’ blog

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