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Understanding the Kaizen Process: Steps and Goals

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/25/2011

Kaizen is all about continuous process improvement, not just of products and the way things are done, but also the environment at work. Learn about the Kaizen process steps and goals in this article.

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    Kaizen comes from Japan. The word itself means "continuous improvement," and that's what Kaizen methodologies focus upon. Kaizen is not a methodology for total quality improvement that only focuses upon the top tier at a company. Instead, Kaizen's methodologies focus upon the entire company. Kaizen companies are open to suggestions from employees and stakeholders at all levels and they take these suggestions and implement them on a regular basis. Companies that implement Kaizen are constantly defining, meeting, and redefining standards. Why implement Kaizen principles in a company? Easy, because by seeking continuous improvement, a company's bottom line is always being increased, employees are becoming more productive, and customers are becoming more satisfied.

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    Kaizen Process Steps

    picture In order to properly implement Kaizen principals for process improvement, there are ten steps towards reaching successful implementation of Kaizen:

    1. Get rid of any fixed ideas you may have based upon conventions. Just because you've always done something a particular way, doesn't mean that it's the best way to complete that task. Instead, allow yourself to scrap conventions in exchange for potentials for growth.
    2. Think about the "hows," not the "whys." Let me explain this. Perhaps you're looking for a way to cut costs on materials while engaging in the green movement. Many people would point out "why" this is not possible. If, instead of looking at why something cannot be done, you look at how it can be done, you focus upon action. Focus upon solutions to problems, not on the problems themselves.
    3. No excuses are allowed. It is so easy to get to the point where you've found a place where improvement can occur, and you've even determined how to enforce the improvement and just stop. Why do companies stop at this point? They begin focusing on the negative, pessimistic view again - they make excuses. "I can't do x, because x is too hard." Scrap this line of thinking and take action!
    4. Perfection seeking does not lead to progress. Just the word "perfect" can stop most people in their tracks. Do not wait until you have determined the "perfect" course of action. Scientists don't wait until they've created the "perfect" experiment (and those who do don't find employment for too long). Determine a course of action and follow it until you need to adjust it.
    5. When mistakes occur, don't wait to correct them! If a tailor waited until the whole dress was complete before ripping out an uneven seam, he would create more work for himself. Correct mistakes as they occur. Make continuous adjustments throughout the process of implementing improvements.
    6. Practice the art of continuous monitoring and review. Don't wind up in Argentina when you're trying to get to Vancouver. Make sure that you monitor the progress of the improvements being implemented and review whether the implementations are truly improvements.
    7. Practice the five why approach to determining root causes. When faced with a problem or a mistake, ask the question, "Why" to go deeper into the problem.
    8. Implement the 3G approach for decision making. The 3G approach involves Gemba (place or location), Genbutsu (the product), and Genjitsu (the problem being specifically looked at). By viewing the problem, in a given space, related to the product, it helps you to be specific about the changes you wish to implement.
    9. Improvements need to occur on a daily basis. Every day, in a Kaizen workplace, a new improvement should be put forth.
    10. Look to the group rather than the individual. While an individual may be extremely gifted at what she does, groups tend to put forth synergy - the conglomeration of new ideas and new thinking. By focusing upon collaboration, new ideas can spring forth.
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    Kaizen Process Goals

    The Kaizen process has seven goals. These goals drive forth the process steps outlined on the first page of this article. The seven goals of Kaizen strategies are:

    1. Kaizen simplifies the job. By having employees, management, and other important stakeholders constantly suggesting improvements, it simplifies everyone's jobs - improvements should streamline all processes.
    2. Kaizen changes things up. Do you like doing the same old same old every day? If not, Kaizen is a great way to keep you on your toes and remove the boring tasks from the radar.
    3. Kaizen keeps things from being a total pain in your rear. If something's not working, why continue to do it? Instead, it is far better to suggest improvements to solve problems before costly defects occur. Kaizen keeps your work from becoming a huge burdon.
    4. Kaizen improves job safety records. By constantly improving processes, you will be abreast of important new safety standards, the latest in advances in equipment and technology, and the safest way to do things.
    5. Kaizen improves everyone's productivity. If you eliminate wasteful tasks, then you save time. For example, is it necessary to create a report of reports every month? Are there less wasteful ways to do things? Is everyone making the best use of their time? Look into the answers to these questions to meet this Kaizen process goal.
    6. Kaizen improves the quality of your products. By following the Kaizen process steps, you can improve product quality. It is important to have quality products because this will increase your customer base, and ultimately, it will increase your bottom line.
    7. Kaizen saves you money and it saves you valuable time. By having high quality products, few accidents, few burdons, and highly productive employees, you will save time. When you save time, you save money. It's a win-win situation, all around.
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    Why Use Kaizen Process Steps and Goals?

    Kaizen process steps and goals lead ultimately to success. Kaizen isn't only useful for implementing in business and project management situations. If you are looking to self improvement, you can follow the principles of Kaizen. Remember step nine, improvements need to occur on a daily basis. Every day, you should strive to improve something new in your self or your company. By focusing on total quality improvement, not only will you meet the above goals with stunning success, but you will also have a more rewarding career and your business will soar.