Kaizen: What Is It?
Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement that seeks maximum efficiency in any process.
The term kaizen itself means improvement or change for the better in Japanese, making the theory self-explanatory.
This methodology can be applied in any area of life (personal, professional, family, affective, financial , etc.), but it has become famous for its application in the business world.
In the context of strategic management , Kaizen is used to improve processes , reduce costs, eliminate waste and increase the productivity of companies.
According to the original philosophy, everything – absolutely everything – can be improved and must be improved every day.
Remembering that it is not always about big changes.
It is often more efficient to make small improvements than to pursue major transformations in the short term.
In this way, it is possible to maintain balance within the company and preserve the organizational structure, while seeking continuous improvement.
In addition, Kaizen predicts that improvement actions must involve all members of a business – from operational employees to the CEO (Chief Executive Officer).
What Is The Origin Of The Kaizen Method?
Kaizen emerged in Japan at the end of World War II (1945), as one of the methods used to rebuild the country after the conflict.
At the time, the idea of implementing continuous improvement gradually rather than pursuing major changes came from the Training Within Industry (TWI) program, developed by the US as part of its efforts to recover companies in countries hardest hit by war.
The strategy was part of the famous Marshall Plan , or European Recovery Program , which allocated more than US$ 14 billion to the recovery of countries allied to Europe – including Japan.
In the early 1950s, Japanese companies had their first Kaizen training, and organizational theorist Kaoru Ishikawa was one of the pioneers in the development and application of the methodology in business.
The automaker Toyota, which is a great symbol of the Japanese economy and productivity methods , owes much of its post-war recovery to Kaizen – hence the importance of this method to the history of the country and organizations around the world.
The success of Kaizen was even recorded in the book Kaizen: The Key To Japan’s Competitive Success (McGraw-Hill, 1986), by Masaaki Imai, which became an iconic work on the subject.
What Is The Purpose Of Kaizen?
The purpose of Kaizen is to ensure that all processes are continually improved within an organization, gradually and consistently .
In companies, it is used as a management and productivity method that seeks maximum efficiency in the entire business structure, involving projects , processes and people.
Generally speaking, Kaizen has the following purposes:
- Teach people how to use resources efficiently , so as to eliminate any waste and do more with less
- Set goals and achieve them within the possibilities of the business
- Instituting a culture of continuous improvement within organizations, so that the idea of optimization is part of the daily life of each employee
- Transmit knowledge between people and ensure that everyone is aligned with the business objectives and management methodology
- Let managers know the right time to eliminate, reduce or change an activity within the company.
How Does The Kaizen Method Work?
The Kaizen method can be applied to any company , regardless of size or segment.
At the management level, for example, it determines that managers should dedicate at least 50% of their time to improving tasks and processes.
This means that leaders will divide their time between their management and planning tasks and their optimization goals.
Remembering that Kaizen proposes small and gradual changes that can be made daily, instead of large projects that take months to implement.
Most of the time, the company implements the method by creating standardized optimization practices that must be adopted by all employees, regardless of their position within the organization.
These practices range from the rational use of resources, such as saving prints and a preference for scanned documents, to secure procedures for sharing confidential information between business members.
In some cases, the company can form a Kaizen group, which is nothing more than an internal committee responsible for defining, implementing and controlling improvement practices.
In Which Areas Can The Kaizen Method Be Applied?
The Kaizen method can be applied in any area of the business, ranging from the operational team to leadership.
Originally, it was introduced onto the production line alongside other timeless quality methods like Lean Manufacturing , which served as the inspiration for creating the lean startup model used today.
In this context, Kaizen guaranteed the efficiency of manufacturing processes , creating mechanisms for strict quality control, process standardization and increased productivity.
An example of improvement practice in production is to previously separate the tools that a particular worker needs to use and create clamping devices, in order to optimize the employee’s time.
But Kaizen is definitely not just about the shop floor.
In the financial sector, for example, the method can be applied to optimize processes such as issuing invoices, bank reconciliation and financial reporting.
Just prioritize the practices and technologies that accelerate these tasks and bring more efficiency to the financial management of the business.
Thus, a financial manager who is adept at Kaizen should dedicate half of his time to thinking about improvements to streamline processes in his department and deliver better results in less time.
The same logic can be applied to marketing , human resources, sales, logistics, accounting, information technology, customer service, among other areas.
After all, there are always processes that can be improved – and Kaizen ensures that these improvements are part of the daily workflow.
What Are The Advantages Of Applying The Kaizen Methodology?
The Kaizen method brings numerous benefits to the company, for example:
- Waste is reduced or eliminated by adopting practices of rational use of resources
- All employees align themselves with the company’s goals and start working towards the same results
- The organization manages to build a solid culture based on continuous improvement and learning
- The company’s human capital is qualified according to Kaizen principles, creating a competent and engaged workforce
- The quality of the company’s products and services is constantly improved, increasing sales and improving the customer loyalty process.
- The company becomes truly customer centric , as all areas are dedicated to delivering the best result for consumers.
What Are Kaizen’s Priorities?
The Kaizen method is based on a few priorities that make it effective in any company.
Manpower is the essential pillar of Kaizen, as all company employees are responsible for applying the method.
Therefore, efforts to implement the philosophy should be focused on the area of people training and development (T&D).
In the industries where Kaizen emerged, the method was implemented through a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) .
This protocol ensured that all workers followed the same practices, even when there were many shift changes and employee turnover.
Today, each company must create its standardized practices and transmit them to employees to ensure the adoption of Kaizen at all hierarchical levels.
Method priority concerns how Kaizen will be incorporated into company processes .
Of course, it is easier to create a process from scratch with the philosophy already covered than to adapt existing activities to the method.
But it is likely that you will have to go both ways within your company.
To create a new process, it is necessary to add standards and mechanisms that ensure continuous improvement as part of the activity itself.
For example, if you are creating a guide to guide your company’s technical support agents, you need to include ongoing review activities and adding new customer questions to improve service.
If there is already a common speech for the attendants, it will be necessary to appoint those responsible and create a speech review flow, so that the company does not stand still in time and always follows the same strategy while consumers change all the time.
Kaizen’s material priority refers to the use of resources within the company.
In this sense, it is necessary to define procedures to use materials efficiently, avoid waste and do more with less.
One of the methodologies associated with Kaizen in this area is the Just in Time production system , which seeks to maintain a lean stock and make new purchases of raw materials according to the pace of production and sales.
In companies in general, the material pillar includes actions such as reducing the use of paper with digitization, adoption of tools that reduce production costs, rational use of the budget allocated to each area, among others.
In the industrial context, the machinery pillar of Kaizen referred to the availability and efficiency of machinery.
This idea can be applied to any type of company based on the principle of preventive maintenance .
In practice, it means keeping the equipment used in the business always up to date, avoiding interruptions and failures that can generate high losses for the company.
Kaizen: Practical Example
To understand how Kaizen works in practice, let’s imagine implementing the method in a software company.
In this case, the production that must be optimized, initially, is the development of systems .
Therefore, the responsible manager or team formed to implement the method must create a guide of improvement practices based on this process.
Some possible actions are the adoption of agile methods, acquisition of new technologies to streamline project management, creation of internal policies for the intelligent use of resources, information security measures , etc.
In addition to software development itself, optimization practices must be extended to all other areas of the business, such as HR, support, sales, finance and customer success .
Kaizen: How To Apply It In Your Company?
See how to apply the method in your company in a few steps:
- Map your company’s key processes to know what to optimize
- Create a Kaizen group or name responsible for implementing the method
- Look for references and cases to plan the adoption of Kaizen
- Create an action plan with goals , deadlines and those responsible to adopt the philosophy in practice in each of the business areas
- Invest in training to qualify and make employees aware of the importance of Kaizen
- Incorporate Kaizen into the company’s culture, sharing its principles with everyone
- Track performance metrics to ensure Kaizen is being practiced daily.
What Is The Relationship Between 5s And Kaizen?
The Kaizen method is usually applied through the practice of 5S , which is also widely known in the business context.
Here’s what each S means:
- Seiri (Sense of Use): It means differentiating the necessary from the unnecessary, helping people to set priorities and eliminate distractions in the work environment
- Seiton (Sense of organization): is the S of the organization, which ensures that everything is in its proper place within the company. This includes having organized processes, tools always at hand, accessible information and more agile workflows.
- Seiso (Sense of Cleanliness): ensures order and cleanliness of the work environment, as well as adequate lighting and ventilation. Everything so that the environment is conducive to productivity and employees feel comfortable
- Seiketsu (Sense of Standardization): refers to the adoption of good practices in all areas of the company, so that all employees follow perfectly aligned optimization standards
- Sheitzuke (Sense of discipline): refers to the focus that all company members direct to the activities proposed by the 5S, ensuring that practices are implemented and incorporated into the company’s daily life.
Through the 5S, it is possible to implement the essence of Kaizen, which determines continuous improvement as a standard of operation of the company and also as a standard of behavior for employees.
Kaizen, Kanban And Just In Time: How Do Methodologies Relate?
Kanban is an agile management method that uses cards and visual records to organize work in a company.
It was created in the 1960s by Toyota, based on a very simple idea: a new task can only be started when the current one is completed.
Soon, factory workers began using cards to visually signal which tasks were completed, keeping everyone abreast of the workflow.
Today, there are online systems that use Kanban logic to facilitate project management in companies, such as Trello and Asana .
By adopting these technologies, companies can combine Kaizen with Kanban to elevate their organizational skills.
In addition, there is also Just in Time, which we have already mentioned and consists of producing, transporting, buying and selling at the right time in a company.
The objective is to avoid idle stock and have an agile production process, reducing costs and increasing productivity.
So you can use Kaizen, Kanban and Just in Time methodologies together to have a highly efficient operation .
Kaizen Vs Continuous Improvement
The objective of Kaizen is continuous improvement, but for that, it is necessary to adopt a structured method .
It is not enough to add the idea of improvement to the company’s code of conduct or its principles, for example.
Without practical direction and standardization of activities , it is difficult to ensure that improvements are actually implemented in everyday life – hence the importance of following Kaizen priorities.
Companies That Have Used And Use The Kaizen Method
Major Japanese companies such as Honda, Nissan, Panasonic and Canon adopted Kaizen in the 1960s and use the method to this day to maintain their competitiveness .