Continuous improvement in the way a facility or entire company works is the heart of Kaizen. While the concept is fairly simple, the implementation can be extremely difficult. Even when companies begin using Kaizen strategies for a time, they often end up losing momentum and falling back into old habits.
With years of both direct and indirect experience using the Kaizen philosophy I have learned many different things that work well, and many that don’t. The following Kaizen tips from my personal experience may be helpful in developing or improving your own strategies for continuous improvement.
Taking Kaizen Slowly
One of the biggest mistakes that individuals and groups make when implementing Kaizen is attempting to make as many improvements as they can as quickly as they can. While the intent is good, the results can be very bad.
Depending on the types of changes you’re attempting to make, you may run into conflicts or other issues. For example, if you change two or more things concerning one process it is nearly impossible to predict what the outcome might be. Instead, limit changes to one at a time for a given area.
Another problem that comes from trying to push through to many improvements to quickly is that it can result in ‘burn out.’ When you’re constantly pushing for changes, people can’t focus at all on their normal work. The end result may be some improvements to efficiency at first, but a dramatic loss of productivity to go with it.
Finding a good balance of continuous improvements while still making sure to keep everyone focused on the main work of the facility will take some planning, but in the long run it is well worth the effort.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
The Kaizen philosophy has been around for quite some time and it has been used by thousands of companies. Over this period of time there have been many ideas developed to help facilitate a successful Kaizen environment. If you come up with an idea on improving your facility, take a moment to see if other companies have done something similar and had success with it.
You can learn about what they did and how it worked so you can take these ideas and implement them in your own facility. Even if the concept is not identical to your situation, you can build off of proven ideas in order to streamline the implementation for your facility. Building on the success of others is far more efficient than trying to come up with everything on your own.
There are many resources where you can learn about ways that people in your industry have eliminated waste and improved efficiency. Whether it is trade magazines, conferences, company websites or any other resource, you can learn a lot from how other facilities.
Get Everyone Involved
One of the biggest mistakes I have seen repeated by many companies over the years is thinking that all good ideas come from management or consultants. While managers and consultants are certainly an invaluable part of the Kaizen team, you’ll want to make sure you are taking ideas and suggestions from everyone in the facility.
In addition to getting a much larger pool of improvement ideas, you’ll also have much less resistance to any changes. When employees feel like they are involved with the ideas and decision making of a change they will be much more likely to get on board. If they feel like changes are simply being dictated ‘from above’ they are much more likely to resist. If you want your Kaizen strategies to work, you need everyone to be as involved as possible.
The following are some simple suggestions on how you can get people to participate in your Kaizen strategies:
Suggestion Boxes – While it may seem overly simplistic, it is actually an extremely effective option. It will allow people to make suggestions in a no pressure environment so they will be much more willing to share ideas.
Rewards or Incentives – Offering rewards or incentives for improvement suggestions is an excellent way to encourage employees to get involved. Even simple or inexpensive incentives can be very enticing to many.
Taking Ideas Seriously – If people feel that their ideas are not actually being seriously considered they will quickly stop making them. Taking the time to really think about and learn about each suggestion is time well spent.
Recognizing Success – When an idea is implemented, make sure the person who originally proposed the idea is publically acknowledged for their contribution.
Kaizen Events – Whenever you’re holding Kaizen events, make sure you include people from all levels. This will help ensure everyone knows that Kaizen requires help from both upper management and the front line employee.
Of course, there are many other things you can do to help people get more involved with the Kaizen process. Each facility is unique, and the employees will respond to different things so take some time to figure out how to inspire your team to get involved with Kaizen.
When done properly, you can benefit from ideas from employees throughout your facility. While you’ll certainly get some bad ideas, there will also be many excellent improvements that could have only come from the front line employees who deal with the problems on a daily basis.
Learn to Make a Business Case for All Expenses
When it comes to improving efficiency and eliminating waste in a facility, nothing is as important as having the right equipment to get the job done right. Unfortunately, I’ve seen firsthand how many companies frown on investing even small amounts of money if at all possible. This is why it is so important to be able to make a strong business case for any products that are needed.
Whenever you come up with a product or piece of equipment that is needed, you need to start thinking of the objections that may be given regarding the cost. Once you have every possible objection written down you can formulate responses to them so you can hopefully get the expense approved.
For example, if you believe that investing in an industrial label maker would help improve efficiency because you could create signs, labels and other items right on site, you need to think about the objections. Some people might say that it is too expensive. Others may say that it would require additional equipment to operate. Still others may say that the training would take too much time and money to complete.
If you are prepared you can immediately counter by showing them that industrial label printers can pay for themselves (and more) over time thanks to lower costs per label and improved efficiency. The label printers from LabelTac can be hooked up to virtually any computer in the facility so no additional investment is typically necessary. Finally, the software included with these printers is very intuitive and easy to use so it would require very minimal training.
By having the answers to the expected objections, you are much more likely to get an expense approved.
Match Kaizen Goals with Other Objectives
One great way to get the resources (manpower, time, money or anything else) you need for a Kaizen improvement you will need to be able to justify it. One extremely effective way to do this that I have seen is to include benefits to other facility goals.
For example, if you want to implement a project to add or improve the floor markings in your facility, you can discuss the added benefits to facility safety. Most companies are willing to invest in improving the safety of their employees or buildings, so pointing out that updating the floor marking tape in the entire facility will also improve the safety will help get your project approved.
When using this tip you need to know what type of goals the decision makers at the facility have at any given time. If you understand these goals, you can often find ways to link them with your Kaizen improvements to improve the likelihood of getting a project approved.
Always Think Long Term
Finally, one of the biggest mistakes I have seen people make when working on Kaizen projects is giving up to quickly. The reality is, not all changes are going to be able to get implemented right away. If you propose an improvement and it gets denied, don’t give up on it.
You can always make improvements to the proposal by making a stronger business case and resubmit it next quarter, next year or even several years down the road. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years it is that nothing remains the same. People get promoted and move to other companies and goals change over time. What gets shot down today could be seen as an excellent idea down the road.
If you just keep in mind that the goal of Kaizen is continuous improvement, you will be able to remain focused. Over time, you will be able to make remarkable progress.
Make sure you check out Creative Safety Supply for all your Kaizen, 5S, and Continuous Improvement product needs.