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Kaizen shows us the impact of continuous process improvement, but where does such a process begin?

In a recent post we showed how kaizen, or continuous process improvement, can energize your organization and dramatically improve quality.  Today we’ll focus on how to get started.

Your first – and most important – step is ensuring senior management has ownership and is fully bought-in to the culture shift and continuous improvement you seek. If management fails to emphasize kaizen, improvements will be minimal and transient. If your management team embraces kaizen, the benefits include increased productivity, higher quality output, and improved workforce performance and morale.

Engage your senior management in conversation about their hopes and aspirations for the organization and their own careers. Help them see for themselves how a few processes changes can help them achieve their goals.


The Bones of a Kaizen Culture

Kaizen has one fundamental principle: everyone has ownership of both problems and solutions.

Kaizen is based on seven process goals:

  1. Simplify the job.
  2. Change the status quo
  3. Eliminate nuisance/annoyance from the job function.
  4. Improve job safety.
  5. Improve worker productivity.
  6. Improve product quality.
  7. Save money and time.

To reach the process goals, everyone working in the company is encouraged to seek out improvements wherever they see them. Kaizen’s beauty and efficiency lie in the grassroots approach to continuous process improvement. Every person is given a voice in how to improve the business. Kaizen empowers team members.


The Kaizen Process, Simplified

When beginning kaizen, one can keep it very simple:

  • An employee identifies a problem or improvement opportunity and documents it.
  • An employee (either the same one or someone else) develops a solution and talks to his or her supervisor about it.
  • The supervisor reviews the proposed solution within 24 hours and pushes for action if action is warranted.
  • The employee implements the solution. If the problem is big, the employee can (and should) discuss the idea with management.
  • The solution is recorded.
  • The supervisor shares the solution and promotes it to the workforce, giving the employee credit.

For example, here at Risk Alternatives we use a Trello board where team members can post ideas for process improvement. Those ideas can move across the board from “ideas for improvement” to “to do” to “doing” to “done.” Everyone has access to the board. More importantly, everyone is encouraged to spot opportunities for improvement and either suggest or seek others’ help in finding a solution. As we identify issues and work together to address them, our work product is improved, our customer service is stronger, and our sense of collective empowerment grows.


The Kaizen Philosophy

Training team members in the simple steps above may lead to improvements, but lasting change requires changes in philosophy and attitude. Begin by noticing where you aren’t using the strategies below. Be honest with yourselves and one another. This will tell you where you’re already leveraging kaizen’s potential, and where you need to focus your energy to effect change.

Work with your senior management team to identify strategies to undertake these important culture enhancements:

  • Challenge settled practices. Companies have to be willing to give up convention so that change can occur.
  • Avoid blame. Don’t point fingers. If someone points out a mistake, fix the mistake and emphasize the change, not the blame.
  • Don’t block. Don’t talk about what can’t be done or why things should change. Justification isn’t the goal. Improvement is. Look at each suggested solution for how it will solve the problem or capitalize on an opportunity.
  • Think team. Once an idea is suggested, generate, test, act, and respond. Kaizen emphasizes both individual initiative and collaborative team effort to solve a problem or improve a process.
  • Fix mistakes quickly. Mistakes will happen. That’s part of growing. In fact, one of the maxims of Lean methodology is that at first, changes slow processes down. The idea is to continue moving forward and not let mistakes stymie the process.
  • Stop the excuses. Don’t allow the culture to slip back into focusing on the negative. Instead, keep brainstorming or tweaking.
  • Commit for the long haul. Kaizen is not successful if it’s viewed as a one-time event or an experiment with limited participants. It requires a dedicated culture shift from everyone in the organization.

Kaizen is risk management generated from the bottom up. It’s a powerful tool to manage threats before they escalate into expensive exposures. Kaizen can eliminate waste and identify new values streams. It promotes virtuous cycles of improvement over time. When every employee is attentive to potential problems and opportunities, organizations win.

Tell us how you’ve begun to introduce kaizen in your organization.

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