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The rules of Kaizen, managing method from Japan

16 December, 2015

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Date of Publication: 16 December, 2015
Kaizen is a Japanese word that can be translated as “continuous improvement” and, when applied correctly, it becomes a method to humanize the workplace while increasing the productivity. While its most common application is the manufacturing sector, Kaizen has been successfully applied in many other organizational contexts.

Since the improvement provided by Kaizen is a gradual one, the innovation it brings does not require a brisk, violent change when implemented.

To simplify the understanding of Kaizen, here you can find its ten-step process:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Document the current situation
  3. Visualize the ideal situation
  4. Define measurement targets
  5. Brainstorm solutions to the problem
  6. Develop Kaizen plan
  7. Implement plan
  8. Measure, record and compare results to targets
  9. Prepare summary documents
  10. Create short term action plan, on-going standards and sustaining plan

Kaizen, as a method, favors small changes, with a tight timing, instead of bigger ones that often translate into a stall. In order to apply Kaizen correctly, we recommend to follow the 5 golden rules:

Rule No.1: No copy and paste.

There are no recipes to follow. If you want something to change in your own company, you simply cannot copy what happened in other environments, adding the same ingredients. To change is a long term process.

Rule No.2: Start from the top

Kaizen must become the approach of the whole company, starting from the CEO and the top management, that need to take part into it and motivate all the people to build the new process.

Rule No. 3: Engage and Involve the basis

All the workers, at any level, must be involved in the process, as many improvements can be offered by those that are actually responsible of the “real” work. Plus, in order to have the most “human” change, humans must be involved.

Rule No.4:  Correct mistakes at once

To really test the flexibility level that should come with Kaizen, use this simple rule: is it possible to correct mistakes as you spot them? With Kaizen, the “correct at once” should be both mandatory and feasible. If you find yourself planning a series of meeting that will take place in a two-week time, just to assess the mistake or the problem, than you’re not applying the Kaizen way.

Rule No. 5: Not financial, but operational evolution

Traditionally, when a company needs to change it often tackles the problem from a financial side. With the Kaizen (that should not cost any money), the center is essentially operational.

Timing is always the key with Kaizen and it is one of the biggest difference when compared to any other managing methods: small changes, but every day, in a just-in-time logic.

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