Kaizen to the Rescue

Successful organizational improvement initiatives depend on successful follow-up and maintenance. To this end, a very effective continuous improvement approach is Kaizen—“change for the best” or “good change.”

Kaizen is a Lean methodology that includes a set of activities applied continuously to all functions in an organization. What sets Kaizen apart from other improvement methodologies is that it involves all employees in the organization—from the CEO to the front line workers.

And it is easy to apply in any type of organization and to all processes within the organization.

Kaizen originates in Japanese businesses, but its influence since the Second World War is worldwide. The reason is simple: Kaizen humanizes the workplace by involving all employees to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. The process is transparent and inclusive of all those involved in the process: from suppliers to customers to employees to all other stakeholders.

The continuous improvement from Kaizen is a daily process of evaluating workflow and eliminating waste on the spot. In many organizations bogged down with policies, directives, and other “checking” mechanisms, workflow is slow and wasteful. But with Kaizen, eliminating waste directly targets these checking mechanisms to improve efficiency and productivity, enabling a faster workflow.

Another benefit of Kaizen is that usually only small improvements are delivered. Over time, these small improvements add up to big improvements because many (all) processes are involved throughout the organization. And this compound productivity improvement means huge savings in time and money for the organization—systematically replacing inefficient practices with customer value-adding practices is a win-win for all.

Kaizen replaces the command-and-control mid-twentieth Century models of improvement programs. Because changes to processes are carefully monitored by those who directly work in the process, Kaizen’s continuous improvement is sustainable. In addition, changes are typically done on a smaller scale, so it is easier to monitor and sustain improvements in the long term.

While Kaizen events are usually week-long blitzes of improvement and limited in scope, issues identified at one event are very useful in informing subsequent improvement events. This type of “paying it forward” approach of “plan-do-check-act” helps maintain a cycle of continuous improvement in all of the processes in the organization.

What is also interesting, but perhaps not surprising, Kaizen has evolved into personal development principles because of its simplicity. Check out Robert Maurer’s book on this topic: One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.