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What is The Importance of Kaizen? The Complete Guide

This guide teaches you the meaning of Kaizen and why it’s important; its transformative benefits; its use cases in various industries, and high-value tips and best practices to optimize your career and company’s bottom line.

What is The Kaizen Concept? Why Is It Important?

Kaizen’s (改善) meaning comes from the Japanese word that means “a change for the better or continuous improvement”—Kai means change, and Zen means better. This is why Kaizen is a management strategy that can be used for process improvement and corporate restructuring, but it can also help tackle everyday work tasks. It’s a powerful tool for creating meaningful change in your business, and it can help you find new ways to make your customers happier, more efficient, and more profitable.

The Kaizen concept was popularized in 1987 by Japanese businessman Masaaki Imai. In his book “Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success”, Imai describes how Japanese companies have been able to thrive economically even after World War II due to their focus on continuous improvement and employee empowerment.

The book was so influential that it helped spawn an entire movement towards Kaizen continuous improvement within organizations. In fact, many companies still use Imai’s theories today.

How Does Kaizen Benefit Me?

At its core, the benefits of Kaizen for company owners, managers, and employees include: improved employee morale, reduced costs, and expenses, increased revenue and profit margins, reduced product defects, and improved customer satisfaction scores.

Here are the more specific benefits across various departments:

For Employees

  • To let employees reach their career and promotion goals faster. Kaizen makes them participate in the improvement process and feel like they’re actively contributing to the success of the company, getting rewards for their ideas that come to life.
  • To give them more control over their own jobs and careers. Kaizen makes every employee know exactly what they need to do each day/week/month in order to get better at their job. They’re even given tools (like training programs) that allow them to achieve those goals with maximum efficiency and productivity for the company.

For Managers

  • To help reach their career goals by improving team productivity scores. Kaizen helps managers surpass their reputation by reducing waste and increasing efficiency for the company. This can be done by helping managers effectively communicate with employees about their work.
  • To reduce waste in company funds by eliminating unnecessary tasks or activities.

For Employers/Entrepreneurs

  • To elevate the sales returns or payoffs per capital. By implementing Kaizen practices, business owners learn how to increase productivity overall in their operations and increase the company’s metrics and sales targets.
  • To create better relationships between employees and managers.

In this article, you will learn:

1. A step by step guide on how to run a Kaizen audit

2. The best industries where Kaizen use cases are most useful

3. The five principles of Kaizen

4. The Pros and Cons of Kaizen

5. The best tips and best practices to optimize your Kaizen strategy

Business team brainstorming and applying the kaizen method

STEP BY STEP: How Do I Run a Kaizen Session?

Kaizen helps business owners maximize their resources by making their operations lean. But you’re probably asking, “How is Kaizen really used today among employees? Who can give a Kaizen audit? Is Kaizen a Six Sigma tool? And how do I run a Kaizen session?”

Let’s answer all of these pertinent questions below:

First, a Kaizen is used to encourage managers to work together toward common goals through cooperation rather than competition. In fact, Kaizen principles are accomplished by identifying and solving problems through small, incremental changes made in a process or product. As a result, the company nurtures a culture of teamwork, commitment, discipline, and collaborative improvement.

Kaizen sessions are then meetings where people come together to identify areas in which they can improve their processes and products. The importance of Kaizen in achieving this can only be realized if it’s done right.

Here are the essential Kaizen steps to include in your custom-tailored workflows:

Step 1: Brainstorm and identify pain points

Being able to pin down the reason for a problem before you make a decision is key, so the first step for a good Kaizen is to identify each pressing issue. Ask everyone involved in the project to gather around and ask them what they think about the current situation or problem. Afterward, identify the pain points. Pain points are problems that your employees have identified as things they want to be changed in their work using a Kaizen strategy.

They don’t have to be huge or even particularly serious—they can be something as simple as not having enough time during the day to eat lunch without feeling rushed, or getting stuck in traffic each morning on the way to work.

Step 2: Work together as a group to come up with solutions for improving things

This is the step where you brainstorm solutions together with your team members. Don’t be afraid to get creative here—you never know where inspiration might come from. Write down several solutions for each pain point. Each solution should be small and actionable; for example, if an employee feels like she/he/they doesn’t have enough time to eat lunch without feeling rushed, she/he/they could try taking her lunch at 11:45 instead of noon. This way, she can have more time to eat and less time rushing around looking for food at the end of her break—this might also make it easier on everyone else who takes their break at noon.

The point is you should make sure in this step that you create a more positive, improvement-centered working environment for employees and managers alike. This empowers managers to identify problems early on and drive a Kaizen continuous improvement and innovation with their employees. Let them think about everything they could do differently—even if it seems crazy at first glance—and let them write down all those ideas on paper. Then prioritize them based on which ones seem most viable for solving your problem.

Don’t forget the importance of their mental health in this regard, you may be surprised how much the work atmosphere and performance changes when this area is properly monitored. You can read more about it in our mental health assessment article.

Step 3: Delegate tasks to execute the solutions accordingly and with employee autonomy

Kaizen is created to have more opportunities for growth and development by helping employees identify areas they could be doing better and giving them time to work on those skills and abilities. This can best be honed when management delegates tasks accordingly.

To do this, have employees vote on which solution they think would work best based on data and their understanding of their specific roles. When everyone understands their role in the company, they’re more likely to work together as a team rather than feeling isolated from each other. This also leads to employee autonomy and higher morale in the company since this makes them feel like they have each other’s backs when times get tough. As a result, employees turn into leaders who can teach others how to do their jobs better.

Step 4: Create a culture of objectivity and continuous improvement

Before implementing any changes implemented during a Kaizen session, make sure that there’s an objective way of determining progress. Install metrics to see whether or not those changes were successful. Determine and collect all the data in order to answer questions or solve problems. This may include things like sales figures or customer satisfaction scores. Doing so not only solves the pressing issues but also creates a culture of constant growth across all departments.

What Is an Example of a Kaizen Strategy?

An example of a Kaizen strategy is purchasing stations that are flow-oriented. This type of Kaizen focuses on removing waste from individual unloading time at a station. The result is an improved customer experience since employees can focus on quality instead of the amount of time they spend unloading each product.

What Are the 3 Pillars of Kaizen?

There are three pillars of a Kaizen strategy or audit: housekeeping, waste elimination, and standardization.

Housekeeping refers to any kind of project-related cleaning up or organizing that can reduce unnecessary movement by creating clear paths for employees to follow. For example, if you have a warehouse where there are multiple workstations for different jobs, make sure each station has everything an employee needs within reach so they don’t have to walk around too much just to get supplies.

Waste elimination involves eliminating anything that isn’t necessary for completing a certain task or meeting a specific goal. For example, if you’re working on a project for one client and then another client asks for a similar project and you didn’t use a pre-formatted template, this could be considered a waste.

Standardization means that all employees should be familiar with the same processes so they can get things done more quickly without having to check with multiple people or ask questions about how things should be done.

For more information about these pillars, visit the Universal Class module on Kaizen.

What Are the Industries Where Kaizen Is Most Useful?

These are the major industries where the use of Kaizen can have dramatic results:

  • Agriculture
  • Cleaning Services
  • Construction
  • Emergency Services
  • Facility Management
  • Food & Hospitality
  • Health Services
  • Horticultural
  • Manufacturing
  • Pharmacy & Chemistry
  • Professional Services
  • Project Management
  • Real Estate
  • Manufacturing
  • Transport & Logistic

Is Kaizen and 5S Same?

Kaizen and 5S are two different practices that are often confused by executives, managers, and employees. The Kaizen continuous improvement strategy encourages employees to make small changes in an effort to improve efficiency and productivity. 5S is a workplace organization system that organizes your workspace into sections based on its use.

What Are the Five Key 5S of Kaizen?

The 5S of Kaizen is a set of guidelines that can help organizations improve their work processes and productivity. This process is based on the premise that if you can organize your workplace, it will make everything easier for you to do your job.

The 5S stands for:

  1. Sort: Remove unnecessary items or organize your workspace by identifying what needs to be kept and what needs to be thrown away or recycled.
  2. Straighten/Set in Order: Arrange workstations so they’re easily accessible or put things in order so they’re easy to find again when you need them.
  3. Shine: Clean up every day by wiping down surfaces, polishing fixtures and equipment, and so on.
  4. Standardize: Document procedures so everyone knows what needs to happen and create systems for organizing items so they’re always where you expect them to be. Make sure everyone follows these systems consistently and creates checklists for daily cleaning duties.
  5. Sustain: Follow documented procedures and make sure everyone stays on top of maintaining good housekeeping practices and preventive measures. These should be implemented by setting regular check-in times with employees throughout each shift (e.g., once per week).

For more comprehensive information about 5S, visit the complete guide of 5s System.

What Are the 5 Principles of Kaizen?

The five principles of Kaizen are:

1. Know your Customer: You have to know your customers’ wants and needs in order to understand how they’ll react to changes you make.

2. Let it Flow: When you come up with a new idea for improving the way things are done at your company, try not to get stuck in the details or bogged down by bureaucracy. Instead, focus on getting things done with powerful results.

3. Go To Gemba: “Gemba” is Japanese for “real place”, and so Gemba-Kaizen means going out into the field to see what’s happening firsthand in the real workplace, rather than relying on reports from others who aren’t able to see everything that’s happening at once.

4. Empower People: Empowering people means giving employees and managers the authority they need so they can make decisions without having to ask permission every time something comes up. This should also let them know what their complete responsibilities are so they know what’s expected of them within the company.

5. Be Transparent: Performance and improvements should be tangible using reliable and verifiable data.

For a comprehensive detailed study, read the complete literature from Kaizen Developers themselves.

What are The 4 Types of Kaizen?

There are four different kinds of Kaizen you can implement in your company: Kaizen Teian, Kaizen Events, Kaikaku, and Kakushin.

  1. Kaizen Teian is a document that contains ideas for improvement that employees can submit. The ideas are then reviewed by management and implemented if they’re deemed to be viable improvements.
  2. Kaizen Events are short meetings where employees come together to brainstorm ways they can improve specific processes or products. The ideas are then implemented as quickly as possible after the event ends.
  3. Kaikaku is a complete change in business strategy or structure that involves radical changes to products or services offered by your company.
  4. Kakushin means “radical innovation,” which means coming up with new ways to do things that haven’t been done before—even if those new strategies are risky or untested.

Hands together celebrating teamwork with brown desk in background

PROs and CONS of Kaizen

Kaizen has helped improve many companies’ operations. However, there are also some drawbacks, but reliable data still suggests that the advantages still outweigh them. Here are the PROs and CONs that managers, employees, and business owners must not dismiss about initiating Kaizen strategies in their workplace inspection templates:

PROs of Kaizen

  • It shortens the time to market. Kaizen helps improve quality control by allowing companies to identify issues before they become problems, allowing them to avoid recalls, lawsuits, and other costly mistakes early on through continuous improvement efforts. This allows them to fix problems faster, which means they’ll be able to bring new products or services faster than their competitors.
  • It improves quality control. A major advantage of Kaizen is that it helps companies make steady progress toward their goals by focusing on the little things at every step along the way. It’s easy for a company to get stuck on one big problem and forget about other important issues until they become crises. Kaizen forces you to think about how all your processes work together, which makes it easier to solve problems when they do arise.
  • It helps employees and managers reach their career and promotion goals faster. That’s because the workforce has a more objective blueprint for reaching their target goals.
  • It saves the company money by reducing waste and eliminating redundancies. This is even more perceived when everyone on your team is working together toward the same goal. If any members of your team are resistant to change or feel like they’re being left out of the process, Kaizen won’t work as well as it could.

CONs of Kaizen

  • Kaizen requires a lot of training and data. You’ll need to educate your employees on how Kaizen works and how to implement it in their daily activities, which is why Kaizen may not work for every company or industry. Some industries simply do not have enough data available for analysis; others may not be able to make changes quickly enough due to regulatory requirements or other factors outside of their control.
  • Kaizen can be expensive when implemented on a large scale. If your company has thousands or even tens of thousands of employees worldwide, then implementing a Kaizen program will require a significant investment in time and resources. You’ll need someone who can lead the effort as well as educate all employees about it—and that takes time and money.
  • Kaizen can be hard to implement in big companies where there are lots of departments and people don’t talk much with each other. The more independent groups there are in your organization, the harder it will be to implement Kaizen successfully on a large scale. This is especially true if you’re trying to implement Kaizen with new hires or employees who don’t understand the concept. It can be difficult to get everyone on board with change, so make sure you have a clear strategy for introducing it into the workplace.

Best Tips and Best Practices to Optimize Your Kaizen Strategy

You’re probably thinking: “How hard can one execute the various types of Kaizen?” After all, if you’re working in any industry, it’s likely that you’re very familiar already with the ins and outs of your company’s workflows.

That might be true, but the problem is that it’s easy to get complacent. To avoid the costly mistakes in complacency and faulty execution of a Kaizen strategy, here are some dos and don’ts, safety tips, and best practices for quality managers and employees to follow:

  1. Start with something small and simple that’s easy to implement, measure and will have an immediate impact on your business.This will allow you to see real results and build momentum toward larger changes later on. For better execution, find a simple but powerful app or checklist maker that can itemize everything you need to assess in your Kaizen strategy. Make sure the software or app can be accessible anywhere, anytime, by anyone on the team.
  2. Identify your top three problems first, then tackle them. Make sure those three problems are related to each other and can be solved by one process or solution. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin trying to solve all of your problems at once; it’s better to focus on one issue at a time. Once you’ve solved those problems, move on to the next two.
  3. Set realistic and specific goals for each person to work towards together, so everyone has something tangible to aim for. Do not try to change everything at once. If you’re looking to improve one aspect of your business, it’s tempting to try implementing sweeping changes right away. However, this will often lead to failure because you’ll be trying to implement more than what is realistically possible.

    The more specific your goals are, the better you’ll be able to measure success or failure at achieving them—and the more likely they’ll be achieved in the first place. That said, don’t set too many goals at once or try too many things at once; otherwise, it’ll be impossible for anyone involved to execute. This could be anything from improving customer service metrics or increasing sales revenues, depending on what your business goals are at the moment.

  4. Hold consistent meetings with everyone involved in order to keep momentum going strong. Make sure everyone involved in the change can make suggestions for process improvements and has a clear understanding of what is expected from them when they need to report back with their progress. If possible, create a suggestion box where employees can submit their own ideas for process improvements.
  5. Have regular one-on-one meetings with employees. This is where they can share their ideas for improvement and ask questions about what other people are doing to improve their own processes, get better at their jobs overall and create a culture of commitment and consensus.
  6. Establish a standardized and clear way of labeling the tools and materials used in the operations for easier Kaizen monitoring. Organize all tools and materials so they are easy to find when they’re needed and easy to put away when they’re not in use.

    You may sort out each tool and material into one of several categories: tools that are used by inspectors daily, weekly, monthly or tools that have been discarded because they’ve been replaced by newer technology. Store these items neatly so it’s easy for workers to find what they need when they need it without wasting time searching through messy drawers or boxes full of clutter.

  7. Set aside time every day or week to analyze the data and think about how things could be improved in your company. Kaizen is not just about making changes; it’s also about analyzing them properly after they’ve been made. To do this, it helps to create a system for deriving answers or solutions with your team members so everyone feels like their input matters (even if only one idea gets implemented).

    This is where many business owners fall short: they just make changes without analyzing them afterward, or they don’t make changes because they don’t fully understand why their current processes work the way they do.

  8. Document everything and track progress toward goals regularly throughout the duration of the Kaizen audit. Create a system for tracking progress and the changes that were made during each Kaizen session, how they were implemented, and whether they worked as expected before and after making improvements.

    Doing this will help you track trends over time; make more informed decisions later on; iterate new solutions until you get it right; and keep everyone focused on the same thing throughout the process, instead of getting distracted by small details.

    The goal is to make small changes that improve your business without disrupting its operations or costing too much money—and then keep making more changes until your business is operating at peak efficiency.

  9. Make sure everyone is on board with the Kaizen session beforehand, especially the appraisers. If one person isn’t willing to go along with the Kaizen or doesn’t think it will work out well for them personally, there is already a strong resistance to achieving Kaizen with success.

In a nutshell…

To sum it up, the Kaizen continuous improvement is not just about doing things better but it’s also about always aiming for peak efficiency in all operations in the business. The best way to ensure this happens is through clear explanations and regular reminders of what Kaizen means and why it’s important. You can do this efficiently and effectively with a digital kaizen tool.

In other words, if you’re ready to take your business or career to the next level, Kaizen is a good strategy to start. It’s not only a great way to improve productivity and the overall performance of your business, but it also ensures that everyone in your organization is geared towards constant growth— from large companies to small businesses, or even individual employees who are looking for ways to do their jobs better and advance their career targets faster and failure-free.

Learn the complete Kaizen strategies and other training modules from its official website HERE.

Four employees discuss at a table how to improve their productivity

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