Kaizen is a lean manufacturing tool that encourages continuous improvement in quality, technology, processes, productivity, safety, and workplace culture. Kaizen focuses on applying small, daily changes that result in major improvements over time.
Kaizen first surfaced during the effort to rebuild Japan after World War II. At the time, several U.S. business consultants collaborated with Japanese companies to improve manufacturing. The collaboration resulted in the development of several new management techniques, one of which was Kaizen. Kaizen comes from two Japanese words: Kai (improvement) and Zen (good). Over time and after Toyota’s success using Kaizen, it became widely known as “continuous improvement.”
Unlike many business practices, Kaizen’s strength comes from requiring all workers—from the CEO to the shop floor assistant—to participate by making suggestions to improve the business.
How does Lean Kaizen Work?
Kaizen works by reducing waste (muda) and eliminating work processes that are overly difficult (muri). As a lean business practice, Kaizen succeeds when all employees look for areas to improve and provide suggestions based on their observations and experience. Generally, these suggestions are for small changes that incrementally change the business for the better.
From the beginning, it must be clear that all suggestions are welcome and that there will be no negative consequences for participating. Instead, employees are rewarded for changes that improve the workplace. For example, Toyota encourages employees to make suggestions by providing a small bonus for each change made. Another effective reward is when employees see their changes applied to the business. Workers become more confident and invested in improving the company: they become leaders that continually look for areas that can be improved.
Kaizen improvements are typically applied by using Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA):
Using PDCA to implement changes ensures that there is a continuous cycle in place to monitor changes and continue to improve upon them.
Kaizen provides one simple principle: look at how things can be improved, improve them, and then improve them again and again. Kaizen’s broad nature means that it is very closely related to other lean tools, which can be used in the process of continuous improvement. These lean business tools generally fall under the Kaizen Umbrella. Some of these tools include the following:
- Automation: Look for processes that can be automated to improve efficiency and make work easier.
- Kanban: Reduce waste by getting the inventory you need, when you need it.
- 5S: Adopt 5S as a system for continuous improvement by achieving facility-wide organization and cleanliness.
- TPM: Eliminate downtime and boost overall production through Total Productive Maintenance.
Part of what makes Kaizen work is that it’s flexible and can be applied using lean tools that best fit your business.
What are the Benefits of Lean Kaizen?
Using Kaizen in your journey to become lean will result in many improvements. Some of the expected benefits will be:
- Increased productivity
- Improved quality
- Better safety
- Lower costs
- Improved customer satisfaction
Kaizen, however, is not limited to increasing profitability. Other benefits improve the overall culture of the company and will help to increase employee retention:
- Improved communication and cooperation
- Improved morale and employee satisfaction
- Greater personal investment in the company among employees and management.
Making sure that employees are happy with their work and engaged in improving the company makes Kaizen a powerful tool for any business.
What Industries Benefit from Lean Kaizen?
Although the birth of Kaizen is directly linked to manufacturing, it can help many other industries, which include:
How can Graphic Products Help you Start a Lean Kaizen Program?
Need more information about Kaizen and how to implement it in your workplace? Graphic Products offers an in-depth Best Practice Guide to Kaizen to help make Kaizen a success.
Proper labeling and signage plays an important role in Kaizen by increasing productivity while reducing waste. Clear signage can make workers aware of changes to workflow, increasing efficiency; meanwhile, properly labeling hazards can lead to fewer injuries, decreasing the downtime and cost (waste) caused by workplace accidents.
DuraLabel industrial label and sign printers by Graphic Products can help develop clear, custom visual communication. With a variety of printers and more than 50 specialty supplies, you’ll find the right tools for your needs.
More information about Kaizen:
Benefits of Kaizen - What Kaizen can do for you. Read about how Kaizen helped Fleetwood and Sony.
Getting Started With Kaizen - A brief overview describing how to start to use Kaizen in your company.
5S - A 5S Program is often associated with Kaizen.
Lean Manufacturing - An overview on Lean Manufacturing.