KAIZEN: A Systematic Way to Transform Your Business (2021)

  • by Brandon Boushy
  • 1 month ago
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Paul Akers holding pipes and showing Kaizen

Have you ever felt like your business is stagnant? That so much of company time is wasted without anything to show for it? That there must be a better way? 

That’s what Kaizen is all about: making things better. Paul Akers has learned directly from the Japanese how to implement kaizen at Fast Cap, and he’s excited to share it with you!

Paul’s experience with kaizen in Fast Cap has given him the knowledge and skills to travel the world and educate people on the kaizen philosophy. We’ll share with you the insights Paul shared with us and give you ideas of how to implement kaizen in your business.

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is the Japanese word for improvement, but Paul tells us there is so much more to it than improvement. He told us:

Kaizen isn’t just improvement. It’s continuous improvement every day. Kaizen is a mindset that starts when you wake up and goes throughout the day.

The practice of Kaizen goes back to after WWII when Japan was rebuilding and many American quality control experts were in the area. The Japanese took the lessons learned from these quality control experts and made it their own.

The most famous adoption of kaizen is the Toyota Way, a leading philosophy in lean manufacturing. Toyota has been utilizing the Kaizen philosophy for a long time. The Toyota Way combines Kaizen with a people-first mentality to create a culture of respectful, continuous improvement.

Paul says:

Kaizen makes you happy. It improves your life. It improves your work. It improves your mentality.
It’s basically solving problems so they don’t keep occurring.

What Are the 5 elements of Kaizen?

The five elements of Kaizen are:

  • Teamwork- Working toward a common goal
  • Personal discipline- Holding oneself responsible for doing what is right
  • Improved morale- Higher levels of happiness
  • Quality- Fewer flaws, better craftsmanship
  • Suggestions for improvement- Openness to ways to improve

Based on research and the interviews with Paul, it appears to me that when you look at these together, they all feed into each other and almost naturally push a person or company to greater heights.

Throughout Kaizen history, there seems to be a focus on the positive. The focus on the positive tends to create more ideas, improvement, and productivity.

When ideas are turned into processes, they create higher quality and greater teamwork, which creates improved morale. Then they keep on feeding each other.

What are the main principles of kaizen philosophy?

According to the Kaizen Institute, Kaizen Philosophy is based on 5 basic principles:

  • Know Your Customer
  • Eliminate Waste or “Muda”
  • Practice Gemba (be where work is performed)
  • Empower Your People
  • Measure and Honestly Share Data

Let’s dig into each of these.

Know Your Customer

An orange calculator with a notepad on a table

Knowing your customer is an essential first step to starting a journey of continuous improvement. Whether being applied in a business sense or your personal life, improvements need to create a benefit for those it impacts.

Creating improvements for others requires knowing what is important to them. How do we establish what is important to our customers though?

Here are some ways you can establish what is important to your customer:

  • Customer satisfaction surveys
  • Database of customer suggestions and complaints
  • Industry Trends
  • You are your customer
  • Demographics
  • Behavioral Research

Most of these will require good data management, which I will talk about momentarily, but many businesses are started because you are the customer.

That was the case with Fast Cap.

In our interview with Paul, he told us:

I created Fast Cap because I wanted a quick way to make the cabinets I build look better.

That’s what it means when I say you are the customer. You created the product to improve your own life.

In this scenario, you can think about what you are like and create a customer profile based on your characteristics. In Paul’s scenario, the customer for Fast Caps would look like this:

  • Carpenters, Craftsmen, Cabinet Makers
  • Care about Efficiency
  • Care about Quality

Those three things can help him identify places to reach customers, like union publications and trade magazines, which will also help keep track of industry trends.

Eliminate Waste or “Muda”

The 8 principles of Kaizen

The Japanese call waste Muda and believe that eliminating waste creates a happier, more productive life and business.

This approach to process improvement can be done occasionally in what is referred to as a kaizen blitz or can be a daily focus on continuous improvement.

Either way, eight types of Muda can be eliminated:

  1. Overproduction-producing too much of a product
  2. Waiting- Wasted time
  3. Transportation- Sending goods out of the way during the supply chain
  4. Overprocessing- Adding unnecessary features
  5. Movement- Taking steps that don’t contribute to the process
  6. Inventory- Storing too much product and tying up cash
  7. Making Defective Parts- Wasting inputs.
  8. Underutilized Talent- Failing to allow employees to contribute as well as they could.

Practice Gemba

Paul told us:

Gemba means investigating the scene of the crime.
Every time you see me I’m on the shop floor. Not in some office away from what’s going on. That’s where the action is. I’ve got to be here to actually find things that aren’t working well.

The only way you’re going to get ideas for improvement is by being where the work is performed. That’s where meaningful changes can be made, but management can’t be the only people involved in Kaizen and Gemba.

Kaizen works best when all employees are actively involved in the process of generating ideas and looking for improvements. They perform the work every day, so they know what doesn’t work.

Employees told us:

Kaizen increases teamwork by making the processes readily known. If I don’t know the process, it’s harder to help other employees with their job.

Watch the video below for the full conversation.

Empower Your People

A white book with doodles and the word "empowerment"

Kainen is all about empowering your people. Management can’t identify every waste or need for improvement in the company process(es).

Therefore they have to rely on their people to identify opportunities to improve the process(es) they are most familiar with.

Companies do their best when their employees are happy and engaged. In the workforce, they describe that as company culture, but Paul views making his employees happy as the entire point of Kaizen. He told us:

Happy employees are productive employees. The whole point of kaizen is to get rid of the things that bug you. If you get rid of them, you make all our lives easier, and we can work better as a team.

Here’s how Paul does that. His team doesn’t have to get permission to fix something that is bothering them — they just have to develop a solution, inform the team lead, and share it on the WhatsApp workplace improvements chat.

That keeps everyone on the same page so they can jump in to help other areas of the team.

Measure and Honestly Share Data

To encourage the team to truly make meaningful incremental changes requires measuring and honestly sharing data.

Many companies like to control their data by only sharing it on a need-to-know basis.

If you have worked with a major publicly held company recently, you have probably heard management tell their employee base some really big lies.

My first day at major building control and defense contractor started with a team meeting, and the first thing the employees asked is:

Are we going to get raises this year?

The answer was no, they couldn’t afford it. Meanwhile, they did a $100B stock buyback and recorded record profit. Shockingly, I didn’t stay long because the workers were miserable and the workplace lacked an appealing culture.

The moral of the story the employee’s hard work paid off for the organization, but management chose not to share information honestly.

How Does Kaizen work?

The kaizen process is meant to be a daily improvement process.  Paul explains the process and gives examples in Part 1 of our interview.

It’s 4 basic steps:

  • Plan
  • Do
  • Check
  • Act

It’s simple — first, you plan out what you need to do, then you perform the task, after that, you check what worked and didn’t, then you enact change.

Later in the interview, Paul explains the importance of team meetings to help people develop a kaizen approach to their work. One of his workers explains:

When I came into the organization, I didn’t really think about processes like this, but the benefits of kaizen are undeniable. I feel like I waste less time, have a more positive work environment, and am able to increase my productivity. The team meetings really help me improve.

Paul told us:

Having a different employee manage each daily meeting really benefits the organization because it gives everyone a sense of ownership. It helps teach them the Plan-Do-Check-Act mentality.

So far we’ve been talking about the kaizen philosophy as a process of continuous improvement, but there are other ways to approach kaizen. Keep reading to find out how.

Kaizen Events

Kaizen events are basically a short-term focus on creating process improvements. There are two main kinds of Kaizen events — the Kaizen blitz, and a Kaizen workshop. 

Both focus on making meaningful changes quickly. Both are typically led by a Kaizen expert. These can be excellent for big changes like when FastCap did a Kaizen blitz for their injection molding machine.

Let’s look at each to understand how they are similar and different.

What Is a Kaizen blitz?

A kaizen blitz is a business process that is focused on developing and implementing ideas to fix a specific problem. 

During this time, the processes involved in the problem will be evaluated, and implementing a solution will occur.

These are meant to make large improvements quickly to reduce waste caused during manufacturing. Companies often do this to help get buy-in from their employees.

Paul’s purchase of an injection molding machine is an example of a kaizen event because it was a major improvement, but it is also a kaizen blitz because it focuses on one specific issue.

They spent months planning how to get this major change implemented. Then they implemented it once they decided on the best way.

Watch the discussion on the injection molding machine below:

What are Kaizen workshops?

An image of Kaizen Workshop for employees

Kaizen workshops are similar to the blitz, but they take a much wider view. They are looking to create positive changes throughout the organization in a short period of time.

They incorporate resources from all parts of the organization to see if solutions arise from teams of different backgrounds getting together.

The Municipal Research and Services Center describes workshops as longer than a blitz or event. There will typically be 8+ meetings spread over weeks or months to get better results. This lets people process the discussion and plan for improvements more efficiently.

Note to the reader: The terminology for events tends to vary based on the source. During research, I have seen workshops, events, and blitzes used synonymously, but also as having different objectives. 

I interpret this difference to be based on people’s understanding of the subject matter, cultural differences, and the desire to use the Kaizen terminology for something that is only partially adopting kaizen philosophy.

Continuous Improvement Best Practices

Paul spends much of the time we spent with him discussing kaizen best practices. Let’s look at some of the kaizen best practices he uses at Fast Cap to help small teams achieve successful results using kaizen.

  • Start your day with the 3S- Sweep, Sort, Standardize. Watch Paul explaining the 3S.
  • Daily team meeting to get everyone involved in creating better change.
  • If it bugs you, change it.
  • Share your solutions so they can be standardized.

Paul tells us:

Remember, Kaizen is a daily thing, not an occasional thing. It’s developing the way you think and act on a daily basis.

What are examples of kaizen?

By now, I’m sure it’s obvious this Japanese manufacturing strategy improves quality, productivity, and the work environment, but what are some actual examples of effective kaizen solutions?

One example Paul showed us was connecting a screw to a magnetic block to make sure you don’t lose them. See the picture below.

Losing screws can really slow down productivity. This is a great solution that can save a ton of time across many industries.

Another example Paul showed us was using markings to show where commonly needed tape lengths are.

While this might not save a ton of time, it’s far quicker than finding a ruler, measuring the tape, and cutting the tape. You just pull to the right length and are ready to continue the job.

Watch the second part of the interview with Paul for more great tips on easy kaizen solutions to improve your work environment.

Influencers

We’ve provided you a ton of resources related to kaizen system management. We hope you’ve got an idea that can help add value to your business.

We find following successful social influencers beneficial to generating new ideas. If you haven’t already, follow Paul Akers on LinkedIn and YouTube.

In addition, check out this list of 20 continuous improvement influencers to follow.

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