5 Steps to Apply Kaizen in Lean Manufacturing

The Japanese term Kaizen means continuous improvement or change for the better. Is often attributed to the success of Japanese corporations, such as Toyota.

Kaizen works best when the focus is on making small incremental changes over time, to improve the way a business functions. It means always looking at current operations with an eye out for ways to make it better.

While Kaizen, in North America, is often related to a week-long event or “blitz” designed to address a particular paint point, the philosophy didn’t start with a problem-based nature. These short-term events can definitely be worthwhile but the impact on the company may be short-lived. For Kaizen to be truly successful, it needs to be adopted as an on-going company philosophy. Here are 5 basic steps for implementing Kaizen in lean manufacturing:

1. Seek Continuous Improvement

In the Kaizen way of thinking, every employee should be thinking constantly of ways to improving the company. Generally, ideas should focus on improving the customer experience rather than increasing profit, though monetary gains tend to be a natural result of positive changes. In terms of lean manufacturing, Kaizen fits well with constantly looking for ways to reduce waste (Muda) in the work environment.

2. Involve Employees at All Levels

This philosophy recognizes that real change can’t be made from the offices of upper management. Everyone in the company needs to be actively engaged. The change team must include employees from different areas of the company. They must welcome, respect and value all suggestions from all levels of employees and help workers feel confident about their input. Supervisors and decision-makers need to spend time on the shop floor to understand how the company really operates. True Kaizen requires positive attitudes and total commitment from upper management for long-lasting change to occur.

3. Create an Action Plan

A team that encompasses all levels of the company will include several creative minds who can provide a variety of input, based on their own specific needs. Together they will decide which areas need to be improved, looking for ways to improve workplace efficiency and quality of product. The team will create clear, measurable long-term and short-term goals with timelines.

4. Implement Improvements

In terms of the different material handling solutions available, a product like Ecoflex (a modular pipe and joint system) is flexible, adaptable, allowing you to create a system that works for your company. As you grow or make changes in your layout to increase productivity or reduce waste, our system is adaptable and can easily be redesigned to meet your new needs.

5. Review and Make Necessary Changes

If you are very specific in the action plan phase, you can create goals that can be easily measured after implementation. Before and after photo and video can be very helpful in determining whether change has been effective. If your data shows improvement in the necessary areas (e.g. Has output increased? Was travel distance shortened?) you can go on to new goals. If the results were not what you had hoped, your team can go back to the drawing board.

Kaizen can be great for solving problems but works better as an ongoing philosophy embraced by management and employees alike. Remember to celebrate achievements and value all opinions as your company begins to embrace Kaizen. You want to keep people motivated and continue making suggestions for positive lasting change.

Think positive. Don’t wait for perfection. Do what you can now. The Japanese believe the power of change doesn’t come from each individual change but from the accumulation of positive changes over time.