What is kaizen and how it helps people and companies become better

What is kaizen

It is a Japanese business philosophy to align and improve a company, especially write paper. The word kaizen has several interpretations, the main one being continuous improvement.

Kaizen itself does not offer a ready-made step-by-step strategy that you can follow to make everything good. There is no universal manual on kaizen either. Rather, it is a set of ideas and principles to build on.

This means that in order to achieve impressive results you do not need radical innovations, but slow and gradual, but daily work.

It is believed that kaizen was first introduced at Toyota after World War II. And it helped to restore production, to fine-tune work processes and increase profits. Therefore, this system is mainly used in companies and productions. Although personal kaizen is also possible in principle.

What are kaizen elements?

As there is no official “bible” of kaizen there is some confusion in descriptions of this approach.

For example, on the site of the Kaizen Institute (yes, there is one) the author of the book “Kaizen. The Key to Japanese Strategy for Success” by Masaaki Imai gives these five elements, which are also called the core of kaizen.

Get to know your customer. This means clearly presenting a portrait of the person to whom you are providing services or selling goods: their values, desires, needs, and pains.

Get rid of garbage. Kaizen is closely related to the ideas of zero waste and lean production. However, this principle can be understood in a broader sense: strive not to use anything unnecessary in your work, take only what you really need, and destroy both physical and informational garbage.

Go to “production.” The word used in the original is gemba, which can be translated from Japanese as “the place where work takes place”. The essence of this element of kaizen is that the manager should understand the working processes well and throw all his efforts into introducing changes there in the first place.

Rely on facts. On statistics, changes in meaningful metrics, and specific numbers, not on your own feelings.

Inspire the team. In this case, we’re talking about setting specific goals for people and helping them get there.

There are several other principles that are associated with kaizen in various sources.

Gather employee opinions. Kaizen implies that each member of the team must be heard if they have something to say. You can hold joint brainstorming sessions, conduct individual interviews, or put up a “suggestion box.” Ideas that people express should be considered and slowly implemented if they are worthwhile.

Give up perfectionism. It’s better to take your time every day than to try to do everything flawlessly.

Look for the root of the problems. You can’t take difficulties and malfunctions for granted. You need to ask yourself at least five times why this is happening, to get to the bottom of it and find a solution.

Avoid the status quo. This means to strive not for stability and balance, but for continuous development.

Maintain personal discipline. Every team member needs to adhere to time management and work on themselves.

Strengthen team spirit. People in the company should have common understandable goals, values, and principles. This inspires, motivates, helps everyone to move in the same direction and work cohesively.

And finally, the third set of kaizen principles concerns lean production. It consists of five S:

Seiri (sorting). Sort work tools, approaches and tasks, identify what is not really needed.

Seiton (systematize). Keep your workplace in order, find a well-defined position for each tool and object. It is not so important whether you work at an easel or a desk in an office.

Seiso (keeping clean). The workplace should be clean. Clean it at the end of each day.

Seiketsu (standardization). Make the previous three steps automatic and make them a standard.

Shitsuke (improvement). Check how effective the system is. Eliminate problems and improve work processes.

How to implement changes with kaizen

This system strongly welcomes the PDCA (Plan – Do – Check – Act) approach, or as it is called, Deming – Schuchart management cycle. It is clear from the acronym that it consists of four stages:

Plan. Change should not be spontaneous, you must always first analyze the situation and draw up a strategy.

Take action. In the case of kaizen, this means trying to implement some small improvement.

Verify. Examine how the previous step affected the company’s work or personal results, compare indicators, talk to your colleagues who were affected by the changes.

Adjust. If necessary, you need to eliminate problems that have arisen, change your approach slightly, or abandon improvements altogether if they don’t work.

How to become more productive with kaizen

Initially this philosophy is aimed at companies and large industries, but its principles also work for each individual.

Writer Robert Maurer, author of the book “Step by Step to Reach Your Goal. The kaizen method” and blogger Gail Kurzer-Myers offer several ideas for introducing kaizen into everyday life.

  1. Set small goals for yourself.

“Launch your business” or “start earning twice as much” sounds like something scary and impossible to achieve. But if you break those big goals down into lots of little ones, it’s much easier and clearer.

For example: “gather ideas for your business,” “research the market and competitors,” “calculate costs,” “make a business plan.” The more you manage to break up this huge block, the better.

You may already be familiar with this approach: in classic time management it is called “eating the elephant in pieces.

  1. Ask yourself little questions

Instructions along the lines of “Start practicing yoga every morning” don’t work well. But finding motivation and figuring out who you are helps if you ask the right questions:

What do I lack to do yoga every morning?

What can I buy to make the task easier and more enjoyable, maybe a new mat and nice comfortable clothes?

What small actions would help me build this habit – picking up my clothes and mat in the evening, reading a couple of articles about the benefits of yoga, going to bed early?

  1. Move in small increments.

Robert Maurer gives a good example in his book. A doctor tried to talk a patient into exercising regularly for 30-60 minutes a day. The patient was clearly not enthusiastic about the idea. She was then suggested that she simply march in front of the TV for only 1 minute every evening. And she succeeded. When these “workouts” became a habit, the patient gradually increased the time and difficulty of the exercises, and in this way made sports a part of her life.

So small steps are the key to big changes.

  1. get rid of garbage

In every sense of the word. Throw out unnecessary papers, broken brushes, and blenders that don’t work. Uninstall programs you don’t use. Eliminate time eaters and change destructive habits. Work with attitudes and thoughts that deprive you of energy and spoil your mood.

  1. Keep your workplace clean and orderly.

Everything has its place. It disciplines, helps to tune up to work and organize your thoughts.

  1. Get better every day.

The main idea of kaizen is that change must happen every day. Even if it’s small, not always noticeable.

Walking 10 steps more than usual, learning two English words instead of one, reading a few pages of a book, sitting on the phone for 5 minutes less than yesterday – it all makes a difference and will eventually lead to good results.

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