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Business Efficiency: What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is not a one-time planned business project but rather an approach to increased productivity that places the focus on greater efficiency. A Kaizen workplace puts people first — in pursuit of eliminating waste (à la Lean), it focuses on eliminating the hardest and least-pleasant work from a production process. In practice, Kaizen is a series of constant, small improvements.

Kaizen in a nutshell

The key differentiations of Kaizen include the following:

  • Putting employees first: A Kaizen improvement would never add difficulty or unpleasantness to an employee’s workload. Employees are highly involved in the improvement process.

  • Constant process: While it’s possible to have Kaizen projects, it exists mostly as a way of life in which waste is constantly identified and eliminated as it surfaces.

  • Individual responsibility: Kaizen expects that if a particular employee encounters waste, she will address it. It doesn’t wait for a top-down approach or a suggestion box.

Kaizen events

A Kaizen event is a group activity, lasting between a day and multiple days, in which a team identifies and implements a significant improvement in a process. Commonly a Kaizen event is kicked off with a Waste walk. A Waste walk is almost a game in which the most amount of waste is eliminated in the least amount of time.

A team gets together and runs through a process over the course of a few hours or a day, trying to identify every possible waste: waiting, communication lags, product defects, and so on. Each waste is remedied where possible and then the process run through again, until either time runs out or all identified wastes are removed. This activity is also often referred to as “picking the low hanging fruit.”

Get people that don’t know the process involved in the Waste walk, as they come in with open minds and are more likely to ask critical questions.

Kaizen is best for Lean organizations, small teams, and organizations that give employees some degree of autonomy and responsibility.

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