The word Kaizen in Japanese is written with two characters meaning ‘to change’ and ‘for the better’. Kaizen is behind the Continuous Improvement philosophy, teaching employee different methods for visualizing opportunities for improvement and eliminating waste.
These tools are developed and used for many years with success in Toyota manufacturing, focusing on the answers for many ‘Why?’ questions like ‘Why I have overproduction?’ ‘Why I have machine losses?’ ‘Why I can’t deliver on time?’ ‘Why the operator is spending time searching tools instead of focusing on work?’.

How do you respond to the question ‘How do you increase productivity?’. The majority of people solve this issue by adding more machines, working harder, increasing the number of workers, working overtime. The key is to increase productivity with the same effort and available equipment. Kaizen teaches leaders how to change their mentality by changing the nature of the work to be easier and better, rather than adding machines or people. Kaizen reveals opportunities for progress and highlights major waste.

The next figure describes in six steps how to apply the Kaizen method:

In the following, I explain the purpose of these steps and present the suggested techniques to apply.

1.Discover the Improvement Potential

The first step reviews ways to open the eyes of the participants to see the waste and to discover opportunities for potential improvements. A Kaizen event to start properly, the actual situation must be clear for everybody. Exists several lean tools for pointing out the improvement opportunities. 

Some of these tools are:

Besides these tools, the standard must be compared with actual performances. The tools mentioned earlier we will discuss independently, because of their complexity. My advice for starting a project like this, the team members need to change their angel of point during observation and analysis and also dig deeper, to see through processes by discovering possibilities for improvement.

2. Analyze the Current Methods

To make improvements, it takes several analyses to get the full picture of the actual situation. This step requires data collection, measurements, to get actual numbers regarding cycle times, equipment effectiveness, scrap parts, etc.

In this step, we recommend several types of analysis to dig in, use it and take the time to understand it. It doesn’t exist rules of which method you must use in your production, so feel free and experiment with new ways to get the desired results.

However, we suggest o list of the most important tools for analysis:

  • Takt Time, Cycle Time Analysis
  • Machine Loss Analysis: OEE, TPM
  • Scrap, Rework- Process Capability
  • Material Flow Analysis
  • 5W 1H
  • Time Study

3. Generate Original Ideas

This step reunites the team for brainstorming the discovered variabilities resulted after analysis. In this part, the members are encouraged to come up with creative ideas from different points of views because it doesn’t exist wrong ideas. Then will be the ideas categorized and discussed in detail. Another important fact is, focusing on the main issue, doesn’t try to resolve multiple problems at the same time. For example, if the purpose of this project is to increase output, don’t try to fix quality problems too. In this way, the team loses the focus point, and they overthink every possible idea they have.

One helpful tool we suggest is Osborn’s Checklist. The list presents seven categories for consideration and inspires team members to generate new ideas. 

4. Develop an Implementation Plan

This step is about the implementation plan. The idea in Kaizen is, to make changes, and implement new solutions as quickly as possible. In this phase, the group discusses testing new ideas and organize production activities that will take place in the next few days. Define roles and split tasks, to get through this phase fast and effectively. Also, do not forget to collect data during the test and after, to compare the new result with the old ones. The purpose is to change in better, not in worst. Creating a good implementation plan will be helpful in the future too because Kaizen has versatile use.

5. Implement the Plan

 The hardest part of this step is, to communicate with all the parties affected by the change. The distribution of the plan for everyone is necessary to implement the plan properly.

A training plan also is part of this phase, because employees need to be informed of what they can expect soon, what they will do differently in the daily activities, how they will do their job differently and why. In the areas where employees are involved in changes somehow, for example, moving machines, organizing tools, changing machine settings, etc. their feedback must be helpful in the whole process. Find out if they have some great ideas and maybe you consider to incorporate them as well. The last suggestion to consider, be patient and wait for the positive results. If you will not see immediate results after you finish the plan it’s normal, just trust the process and notice the effect of the changes.

6. Evaluate the New Method

The final step in Kaizen explains the importance of evaluating the results of the action. Without measured improvement is no improvement. The hardest part of an improvement project is, to measure the result. The actual conditions prove to be ‘better’ and not just ‘different’. If you end up with some changes on the shop floor, but without a positive effect on production, that we call simply a waste of resources.

We return to the same methods we have already used in the second phase, to compare the new analysis with the old ones.

 The indicators we are interested in are:

  • Productivity – Parts/ Hour- more than before Kaizen
  • Quality – Scrap Parts (%)- less than before Kaizen
  • Inventory – Number of parts- less than before Kaizen
  • Lead-Time– less than before Kaizen.

This is a complex Lean Project that requires time and team effort to lead to success.

In the scheme below, you can see an example for Kaizen, and attached the analysis and templates.


Good luck for your first Kaizen Project! 🙂

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