How To Implement Kaizen-Principles and Examples

What is Kaizen

Kaizen is Japanese for continuous improvement. Learn basics of Kaizen, Kaizen Blitz and how to implement in your organization.

The word Kaizen is taken from the Japanese Kai “change” and Zen “good”. This is referred to as incremental improvement on a continuous basis and involving all employees. The important term here is involvement of all employees, as this initiative is driven with maximum participation of shop floor employees.

Kaizen is not run by one small team looking for breakthrough improvement rather it encourages employees to report a problem and suggest solutions to rectify it or come up with other improvement ideas.

Kaizen encourages employee engagement and they feel being part of the system and decision making as they participate in different Kaizen activities. Kaizen provides employees a chance to think about process improvements and a platform to put forward their ideas in front of the management. Most of the organizations have Reward and Recognition attached with Kaizen, this improves participation levels among employees. All this results into better job satisfaction, involvement and makes the job more fulfilling.

Kaizen is an umbrella term for:

  • Productivity improvement
  • Total Quality management
  • Zero defects
  • Just in Time
  • Suggestion system

The Kaizen strategy involves following key themes

1. Kaizen management

Management is committed to and encourages kaizen practices, it should form part of the overall company strategy. It includes proper implementation and plan for training, listening posts, reviews, rewards etc. The strategy needs to be driven from the top with full support of the management. Management may need to deploy a team of experienced professionals to deploy the overall strategy and to make sure that it moves in the right direction.

Periodic reviews by the top management is imperative and it installs a sense of urgency and importance of Kaizen in the overall scheme of things. This shows the commitment of top management and they should participate in the Reward and Recognition events.

2. Quality first

Quality is of the highest priority and this culture needs to be imbibed in every employee from the moment they join the organization. Quality is measured in terms of customer satisfaction from the product or service. Customer satisfaction here means meeting or exceeding customer expectations from your end customer or your internal customers.

Quality can’t be limited to Quality function only, but every employee is responsible for the quality of the product. Employees should be trained on quality concepts and basic quality tools. Kaizen actually encourages employees from all levels to participate in the quality improvement process.

3. Eliminate waste and use of Lean tools

Elimination of non-value add or Muda is a very important part of kaizen. Employees are trained to identify Muda in the process and come up with solutions to remove them. All employees should be trained on Lean tools and identifying what is waste, these trainings should be provided at periodic intervals.

In our organization we have different training plans for different levels, but we make sure that all employees at the floor should know what are non-value add activities. We train them with examples from their operations. Along with these classroom trainings, we also use daily briefings, white boards and banners to improve awareness among our employees.

Value Added Activity

  • Any activity that changes the form, fit, or function of a product/transaction
  • or Something customers are willing to pay for

Non-Value-Added Activity

  • Any activity that absorbs resources but adds no value is a Waste
  • All other actions and unwanted features are by definition — WASTE

This improves productivity of the process. Other commonly used lean tools are VSM (Value Stream Mapping), Poka yoke, Takt time and line balancing.
Once employees know the concept and tools, they can apply these concepts in their day to day work and they can come up with more useful and relevant process improvement ideas.

4. Use of PDCA cycles

Plan-do-check-act is the method of improvement and the check cycle refers to verification that implementation has taken place and is on target to meet goals.
PDCA was created by W Edwards Deming in the 1950’s as an easy to follow Problem Solving cycle. Deming was tasked with helping Japan rebuild its economy in the 1950’s. His purpose was to use PDCA with a Continuous Improvement process to help rebuild Japanese industries so that they could compete in the world market in the future.

Plan: Plan involves defining the problem, make a process flow of As Is, collect data, brainstorm root causes, identify solutions. These are some of the key steps of Plan.

Once the problem is identified, we make As Is process flow to have common understanding of the process and identify unnecessary steps or steps which can be merged etc. We do brainstorming to find solutions and it is finalized then we need to make a proper plan for a pilot test. This plan should include the future state process map, scope, training requirements, who will perform each step, measure of success, duration of pilot run etc.

Do: Next step is “Do”. Here we rank the solutions, do analysis related to solution effect, failure prevention etc. A project plan is created and is implemented, preferably a pilot plan is implemented.

Basically, in this step we implement the solution preferably in a pilot mode. This is a crucial phase and proper monitoring is essential by the project team. If solution is not implemented as per the plan, then the results may not come as desired. The process changes need to be communicated well to all the stakeholders.

Check:B In “Check” step we collect data to monitor performance improvement. Resolve any issue by finding counter measures to ensure solution plan continues and do the impact analysis.

At times, things may not go as planned and some small changes might be required. These things should be brought to the project team’s notice immediately. The project team then can evaluate and update the process accordingly.

We must be very clear on what all metric/parameters to be collected and checked to confirm improvement in the process. Recently we deployed Bot to handle few activities in a process, so we did Time and Motion to check the impact. Here we had to be very clear in taking samples for comparison, it must be for similar activity pre and post, same person doing with and without Bot, calibration of person doing Time and Motion etc. This is just an example for our understanding.

Act: If the solution has been found effective then integrate the solution into standard operating procedures. This is the last step known as “Act”.

Many a times it happens that with time the changes done in the process are forgotten, probability of this is high if the process is more people driven. So, it is very important to document every small change done in the process.


Kaizen Blitz – Solving specific problems in a short span of time

While most Kaizen activities are of long term nature and run as a set process, many companies use a different type of Kaizen strategy known as Kaizen blitz or Kaizen event. This is done targeting a specific area (planning, training and implementation) within a short time period.

The Kaizen blitz, using cross functional members in a 3 to 5-day period, results in a rapid workplace change on a project basis. If the work involves a specific function, more team members are selected from that function.

Depending on the experience levels of the group, a 5-day Kaizen blitz starts with 2 days of intense training on continuous improvement concepts. This is followed by 3 days of hands on data collection, analysis, and implementation at the source.

The last part of the workshop truly requires deep management commitment. The management must accept the decision-making process/solution as determined by the Kaizen blitz group and the facilitator.

A significant amount of time and money is involved at the implementation stage. The team makes a final presentation to the plant management and all other stakeholders. Every Kaizen blitz has the possibility of bringing immediate changes and benefits.

Kaizen blitz events must occur with minimum expense and maximum use of people. It should bring basic changes in the process flow and methodology.

Tips for implementing Kaizen

Design training material for employees – Prepare training material on Lean tools including process mapping, Value Stream mapping. Initially you can keep it simple by just introducing the concepts.

Start with Kaizen blitz – While you are training employees, conduct some simple Kaizen blitz activities also with trained employees. This will encourage them, and you will be able to set some momentum in the organization.

But the key thing here is to keep the problem a simple one and come up with a practical solution. These activities and small improvements will help to get more management commitment.

Make a plan for idea flow – Make sure to draft the process of idea flow. This should involve method of collating ideas, review of ideas, who will work to close loop the idea, feedback to the employee, reward and recognition plan.

These are basic the components, but the process should be defined.

Collation of ideas/suggestions – There are various methods/tools which can be used to gather ideas and suggestion, some of them are:

a) Online tool/portal – You can create a simple form on your company portal, employees can post their suggestions on the postal. But make sure that the portal is used by all the employees regularly. If possible, create a dashboard containing total ideas shared and selected.

b) Soft board – You can place a board on the shop floor (gemba), also place paste it pad and a pen. Employees can write their name and idea on the paper and paste it on the board. These can be collated every day or may be on a weekly basis. This improves the visibility on the floor.

Example of a board on the shop floor where employees can paste their suggestions

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