Kaizen: 5 continuous improvement areas to explore with your team

A ready to use template to start working with your team immediately

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Do you want to improve your product or service quality or make sure you keep to deadlines or budgets? Do you want to avoid turning your organisation upside down from one day to the next?

Then the Kaizen system is made for you! This process is at the heart of Toyota’s success and enables teams to improve, even without major resources. Here are 5 areas for you to explore to get started.

1. Think about the customer first and foremost

The whole Kaizen process is based on one ultimate objective: to satisfy the customer!Stock management, production management and quality audits are just a few of the areas where your team needs to search for excellence, to provide your customers with the products and services they expect, on time and at the best price.It comes as no surprise then that Totality Quality Control (TQC) is the cornerstone of the Kaizen methodology.TQC covers a host of aspects. For instance, in industry, it may involve double verification of each part, or the establishment of “quality circuits” or “continual improvement groups”.These are quite specific processes, but processes which may provide inspiration to all teams in all sectors.The first lesson to remember from the major successes which have been achieved using the Kaizen process (with Toyota leading the way) is that it is simple to be customer service-oriented when several people within the company guarantee it.One of the solutions to deliver better products or services may then be to stop entrusting quality audits to a single person, but to place this responsibility on a team (pairing, quality circle, etc.).

2. Favour a step by step approach

The term “Kaizen” is a contraction of two Japanese terms: Kai (change) and Zen (for better). In two words, “continual improvement“.This means that when you think Kaizen you opt into the idea that excellence needs to be worked at on a daily basis, little by little, step by step.As this symbol of Toyota’s production system, this approach involves slight improvements, in small steps, unlike the major leaps forward that can be seen in innovation.Its advantage? Execution quality is constantly improved and deadlines and costs are controlled to ensure better stock and production management, without imposing any sudden changes on the men and women who, both individually and collectively, take part in the process.

3. Place human beings and communication at the heart of the team’s operation

While the Kaizen method does not require any significant financial investment, it does require major commitment from all employees, from all activities and at all managerial levels.The improvements which are put in place are tiny, but what’s special about them is that they come from everywhere.To be able to increase execution quality constantly, the companies which use the Kaizen method the best invite each person to say what they think can be improved, and get the collective to discuss the areas for improvement to be put in place.As the theorist Masaki Immai says, the Kaizen method is a system where “each person is made responsible to achieve the cult of the best“.The process is therefore perfectly in step with Lean Management, a method which involves improving a company’s performance by developing all of its employees.When transposed to the scale of any team, the process, which is very well known in the industrial sector, maintains its full meaning: each person’s opinion counts and through collective discussion the team can achieve excellence.

4. Manage problems in advance

To achieve the best execution quality possible, the simplest thing is still to eliminate sources of difficulty as early as possible in the manufacturing process.In the Kaizen system, the emphasis is placed on solving problems in advance, with anticipation at the forefront.This method makes perfect sense and may be rolled out very easily in your day to day business, by asking each person to make suggestions even before problems arise.

5. Hunt down waste

If you want to deliver the best product or service at the best price as quickly as possible, you’ve no choice: you have to track down waste in all its forms!Taiichi Ohno, the Toyota production system’s founding father, identify 3 main families of waste to be eliminated:

  • Muda (tasks which have no added value but which are accepted)
  • Muri (excessive tasks which are too difficult or impossible)
  • Mura (irregularities, fluctuations)

An analysis grid to use within your team, for your team to find the solutions to eliminate errors, waiting times and more, in short, anything which is unnecessary!How can you start using the Kaizen method simply?The advantage of the Kaizen system is that can adapt to any working environment and be rolled out infinitely.It is implemented on a daily basis, in multiple forms.In concrete terms, it many involve (to list just a few potential actions):

  • Tidying up workstations regularly to get rid of anything which takes up space for no reason
  • Organising regular team meetings to communicate better
  • Providing your customers with satisfaction questionnaires
  • Reducing unnecessary movement by providing certain pieces of furniture (for example, tables, chairs or even bins)
  • Installing a visual management system in your workspace (Kanbans, display board, Klaxoon Board, MeetingBoard). The idea behind it? For the whole team to be able to see and understand very easily what needs to be done, what has been done and what’s still left to do! Efficiency guaranteed!

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