Kaizen Continuous Improvement – Ten Tips

Ten Tips to Help You with Your Kaizen Continuous Improvement Strategy

The Kaizen methodology encourages ongoing efforts to ensure continuous improvement throughout a facility. This improvement can come in many forms including waste elimination, improved efficiency, safer work environments, and much more. Simply say that a facility is employing Kaizen strategies, is essentially meaningless if you don’t have any concrete action items you are following.

Whether you’re just getting started or you are looking for ways to reinvigorate a Kaizen strategy that is not effective, the following ten tips will be very helpful. Each one can give you ideas on what you can do to encourage improvement and allow that improvement to grow and expand long into the future.

Kaizen Continuous Improvement

Tip #1 – Harness the PDCA Strategy

One of the key concepts used in Kaizen is the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” strategy. This quality model can be used when implementing any type of improvement in the facility. As you might expect, the PDCA strategy is a cycle of ongoing improvement that should never end. The steps are as follows:

  • Plan – This step is where you identify an area where improvement is possible and make an initial strategy on what chance should be made to realize the desired improvements.
  • Do – Implement the change, but only on a small scale. This may mean having one department make the change in some situations or for larger corporations, having one facility make the update. During this step, it is also very important to be gathering as much data regarding the change so it can be properly evaluated.
  • Check – Review the results of the change including the data that was collected. Looking to see if they had the desired impact or not is critical to know whether you should move forward with rolling the change out to other areas.
  • Act – IF the data in the check step points to success, it is time to push the change out on a wider scale. Once the change has been successfully implemented you will go back to the plan step to look for further improvement opportunities. If the data from the check step shows that the change did not work as planned, you go directly to the plan step to either start from scratch or attempt to make the needed adjustments to get the desired results.

Tip #2 – True Safety Improvement

5-changing-lightsNothing in a facility is more important than the overall safety of the employees and the facility itself. Unfortunately, accidents and other safety hazards are never going to be completely eliminated. That does not mean, however, that you cannot make an effort to dramatically improve the overall safety of your facility. In fact, safety improvement is an essential Kaizen focus because you can realize ongoing improvements with the right effort.

Looking at every accident or even near-miss event as an opportunity to learn what went wrong and take steps to prevent it in the future is an excellent strategy. Many facilities first look to place blame on someone or something for an accident, but that is actually counter-productive. Instead, look for the root cause of any issue and see what can be done to fix it.

Tip #3 – Think Small

Many companies today are only looking for the, “BIG WINS” when it comes to improvements. While big wins are always nice, they really aren’t going to be able to happen very often. A company that identifies small areas of improvement and implements them frequently is going to make much more progress over time than one that ignores the small things and only focuses on bigger issues.

Tip #4 – Empower Employees

Good managers are an invaluable part of having a facility that engages in continuous improvement. This is because good managers know that it is often going to be the employees who come up with the next great improvement idea. Employees perform their jobs all day everyday so it is no surprise that they will be the ones to find problems and hopefully the solutions to them.

Empowering employees to take steps toward improvement can be very helpful. Having a process by which they go through the PDCA cycle with as little interference from management as possible can be very helpful. Of course, for some changes manager involvement and approval will be necessary, but putting as few obstacles in the way as possible will result in much more improvement.

Tip #5 – Recognize Successes

When a change is made that results in improvement in the facility it should always be recognized. This recognition could be something as simple as a thank you from the department manager or as large as corporate recognition with a bonus or other reward. To the extent possible, all recognition of improvements made should be done as publicly as possible to help motivate others to work towards improvements.

If someone has an idea that doesn’t work out as planned, it can still be a good idea to recognize that even though it didn’t work out, it was still a good thing that they made the attempt. As the saying goes, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Even when ideas are unsuccessful it is still a learning opportunity and it may trigger ideas about the next great improvement in the facility. Never punish people for making an attempt at improving the facility.

Tip #6 – Engage the Full Team to Find Improvement Opportunities

Continuous improvement in a facility is almost never going to be made by a single person. This is why you need to have the entire team involved. This starts with the CEO and leadership team and goes all the way to the front line employees. By creating a teamwork environment where everyone is working together to ensure ongoing improvement you will be much more successful in the long run.

Even when employees propose an unrealistic idea it should still be seen as a positive step. Taking all ideas seriously and trying to find ways to implement them if practical can allow employees to have the confidence in the management team that they need to want to bring new ideas up to the team.

Tip #7 – Use 5S (and other) Strategies

5s-station-afterOne thing many facilities do when trying to make improvements is select one methodology and use it exclusively. Kaizen continuous improvement, however, can benefit from a variety of other methodologies that are used in most industries. For example, when attempting to eliminate waste you can look to the 5S, Lean or Six Sigma strategies to learn more about how to successfully accomplish this.

When looking for safety improvements, consider the 6S strategies and others. The point is, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you are trying to make improvements in a specific area. Look to successful strategies that are already out there and take advantage of them whenever possible.

Tip #8 – Implement Hoshin Planning

Hoshin Planning is a concept where all employees are looked at as the experts in their specific jobs that they are. Since they are seen as experts, they will be held accountable for achieving the desired successes, including continuous improvement. This is different than empowering employees because it not only gives them the ability to identify changes, but actually puts them in the decision making position.

In addition to helping ensure employees are contributing to the continuous successes desired, you are also empowering them with more trust and responsibility. It has been shown that this type of strategy can improve job satisfaction and company results.

Tip #9 – Know Your Processes

kaizen StepsYou can’t make improvements on something if you don’t really know what is going on with it. This is why you should have a clear understanding of everything that is happening in the facility. A great strategy for this is to employ value stream mapping. This will help you pinpoint where all the value for your products is added so that you can eliminate any waste that is involved.

Keeping your value stream  and process maps updated and accurate is important. Every time a change is made to an area, for example, make sure you know how it is impacting the value add to that area. This will ensure you are always evaluating an accurate portrayal of your facility so you can make the needed improvements on an ongoing basis.

Tip #10 – Never Give Up

Whenever thinking about Kaizen continuous improvement you need to recognize that the ‘continuous’ part of the strategy is extremely important. This is a strategy that should be implemented as soon as possible and then continued indefinitely into the future. As soon as one improvement is made, it is time to start looking at what the next improvement opportunity will be.

It is also important to remember that there will be failures along the way. Some ideas will be tried and found to not produce the results that are needed. When this happens make sure you and your team don’t get discouraged or give up. Instead, start the process of finding and implementing improvements over and you’ll soon achieve the results you were hoping for.

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