Let's do Kaizen

Written by Jason Haines

“Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.” -Bob Parsons

When we are younger, we seem to want everything now; we don’t take time to understand there is a process to things that we need to follow. I was no different in this aspect as I always wanted to have everything now. Money, success, and the good life are the things most of us chase and idealize as youngsters. However, there was one thing I knew I needed to work for and continually improve upon to achieve success, and that was sports. As I’ve grown older, I realized that you view sports on the same level as a changing a culture and business; it takes hard work and time to get it right and become better.

Sports has helped people learn how to continually improve upon and understand areas we must work develop, while also learning from our mistakes to progress. I think, therefore, that I have come to love Lean Thinking so much because I was an athlete. The journey of doing things, learning from mistakes, and teaching others how to think about making positive changes has made a huge impact in my life. Just like the days that I played baseball, the Lean Thinking toolbox and world experiences have brought new encounters daily that I can learn from and make adjustments that will help me in the future. One of these such things is the Kaizen that a lot of Lean practitioners learn about early in our training and journeys.

Kaizen is a concept referring to business activities that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. Kaizen is a philosophy of continuous improvement. Kaizen can be used to make improvements to any function within a business and when we used correctly, can make great improvements to our company and our culture. Kaizen was developed to help companies make improvements within their business without going out and buying new machinery or anything else that cost a company money. These improvements were used to keep existing machinery, people and facilities in good running order while being improved to be better for the next day.

There are many people who have been said to have developed and brought Kaizen into prominence but there is one who talked about the sequence of how kaizen should be used by an organization. That person was one of the early pioneers of TPS, or Lean, was Taiichi Ohno. Ohno said there was a sequence that Kaizen needed to be performed in in order to make the whole system of an organization work. That sequence was three types of Kaizen. Those were “manual work Kaizen,” then “equipment Kaizen,” and lastly the “process Kaizen.” His purpose behind this order, and we will go more in depth in the following paragraphs, was the need to work on certain things and to make sure you make the correct choice of machines if needed later.

So, let’s talk a little about each type of Kaizens and how they affect the overall system when we make the necessary changes.

The first of the three Kaizens is the “manual work Kaizen” which studies the work done by the frontline workers with their hands and feet. When we are doing Kaizen at the local level, we are trying to find ways to improve the process of doing the manual job. This is the easiest for all of us to see and ask why we are doing certain things. Many times, when us Lean practitioners are looking at the local, manual processes we are not trying to find things that are being done wrong. But we are trying to find how we can help the processes to be done better and more efficiently.

One of the methods that I work when looking at the local methods of a job process is by seeing the path that the employees take in order to perform their jobs. Then asking questions on why they do certain things so that I do not make the mistake of eliminating steps that are important. We then get all the people involved with the process, and after the documentation is done, bring them in and document and brainstorm the new process. Then we can make the much-needed changes that are needed to all the manual processes. We must have all the buy in from all of the people at the frontline. We have to also have all of the input from the managers and frontline employees, so we know what and how to adjust the processes. Therefore the “manual work Kaizen” is the first to be done and most important. It helps to eliminate steps that are unnecessary.  People can talk, machines can’t.

The second part of the sequence to implementing Kaizen is the “equipment Kaizen.” This Kaizen is where we begin to implement and improve the machines we currently have in our facility. A lot of times we believe machines cannot run what we need, and we think we need to change those machines. This is where the ROI warriors come in to play. They make their predictions of the future and what money the new machine will save the company or make the company with its extra ordinary efficiencies. But the Lean practitioner is trying to find a way to make the current machine run better and produce what we need. Lean practitioners are looking to save the company money via not buying a new machine, creating a machine that makes the new product, finding a quicker way to make changeovers on the current machine, and many other ways. It is all about saving money and creating efficiencies with the current machines.

The last step in the sequence of doing Kaizen properly is the “process Kaizen” which is where we Lean practitioners do continuous improvements to the overall process. In this Kaizen we want to make sure men, methods and machines are all being worked on and improved for maximum efficiencies. Whole processes are the hardest to work on why we begin with the manual work and the machine work. Therefore, we can break everything down into bite sized pieces and improve one small thing at a time. One of the great Lean practitioners here in the United States, Paul Akers, came up with the Two Second Lean to make sure he and his crew were making daily continuous improvements. But they did not do this until they made the necessary improvements needed at the front end of the process. Everyone must start somewhere and make a way to improve continuously.

I want to leave you with a quote from Taiichi Ohno who came up with this Kaizen sequence and studied how to make it work within the Toyota factories. Ohno said, “Kaizen ideas are infinite. Don’t think you have made things better than before and at ease. As I mentioned earlier, this would be like the student who becomes proud because they bested their master two times out of three in fencing. Once you learn how to pick up the sprouts of Kaizen ideas it is important to have the attitude in our daily work that just underneath one Kaizen is yet another one.” We must continuously improve and make each day better than the last. Whether that is two second lean or any other method we strive to become better than yesterday.

Helping grow your business through process improvement!!